The most valuable asset in investing (and life!) is an open and flexible mind. Always be prepared to be proven wrong and be humble enough to challenge your views.
Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Clara Bullrich. Clara is a Partner at Alvarium Investments (“Alvarium”), where she oversees relationships for various ultra-high net-worth clients in Latin America and serves on the Investment Committee of Alvarium’s Miami-based subsidiary, Guggenheim Partners Latin America, Inc. (“GPLA”). She has 20 years of experience in private banking and asset management. Before joining GPLA (formerly Guggenheim Investment Advisors) in 2000, she worked in Banco Santander Private Banking and as Head of Business Development for Collectivemind, an internet developer of financial platforms for institutional investments. She is also Co-founder and General Partner of TheVentureCity, a venture and growth acceleration model.
Thank you for joining us! Would you please tell us the back story about what brought you to the Wealth Management field?
Back in 1998, the Wealth Management industry was dominated by Private Banks that were rigid and antiquated in their approach, and I wanted to create a new type of service for my clients. I joined Guggenheim Partners (which would later become Alvarium’s Miami-based affiliate) to develop a new model of “family office” to add value by educating our clients by offering a fresh approach to Wealth Management. It was challenging, but it has been very rewarding.
Would you please share the most interesting or amazing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
Around 2000, when we started pursuing our first clients in Latin America, Europe and Asia, our multi-family office name — Guggenheim Partners — conveyed the impression that we were art advisors. It took longer than expected for our prospective clients to fully comprehend the type of service we were providing: a new concept of family office where, as their financial advisors, we acted as the direct liaison between them, their banks and other needs. We were their first point of contact, providing more than just a service or a product.
Would you please share the lesson or take away you took from that story?
The industry wasn’t innovating at all, and nobody expected the banks to innovate. They handled their customers’ needs in a different way. Multi-family offices like ours forced banks to change, evolve and understand that they had to provide a holistic approach to their clients. We disrupted the market. In the early 2000s we were one of the only multi-family offices that had offices in multiple jurisdictions; now, we are part of the Alvarium group with 12 offices in 9 countries, supervising US$17 billion of assets.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that would help people?
We have a responsibility to identify and understand trends and execute them effectively. We at Alvarium have developed areas of expertise that go from traditional to alternative assets, like Merchant Banking, Venture Capital, Real Estate and Private Equity, among others. We provide our clients with access to an international network facilitating co-investments, collaboration and connection.
The trend that I’m currently most passionate about is technology. The world has changed. If you take a look at the five biggest companies in terms of market cap, they are all tech. We want our clients to understand this new asset class, be able to access investment opportunities in the sector and ensure that sufficient due diligence is performed, so that they feel comfortable investing in them.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
We recognize that the rules of engagement are constantly changing and we at Alvarium are looking to stay current by developing pockets of expertise in different areas. We understand future challenges and we want to have a key role in the evolution of the “multi-family office ecosystem.”
Wall Street and finance used to be an all-white boys club, this has changed a lot recently, in your opinion what caused this change?
It is evolving, but we still have a long way to go. The industry is starting to understand that having diversity — in in terms of culture, race and gender — brings richness of ideas and different perspectives to the conversation. We really believe that the best idea wins, no matter where that idea comes from.
Of course, despite this progress we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to a report on CNBC less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience what three things can be done by a. individuals, b. companies and c. society to support the movement toward parity moving forward?
We are witnessing a change; it is a fact that more women are breaking the glass ceiling. As an individual, you must be prepared to make your own rules, be resilient and remain fiercely focused on achieving your goals.
As a company, you have to support other companies that promote diversity. Alvarium is a good example. We are diverse across the whole spectrum of the company, ranging from partners to advisors, and beyond.
As a society, we need to foster those foundations that are supporting diversity. I am a part of different organizations that encourage women in leadership roles, but it is important to understand that with gender diversity you can have a more complete vision of things. The richness of these diverse visions is what we foster at Alvarium; the best idea wins.
According to a report in Fortune nearly 2/3 of Americans can’t pass a basic test on financial literacy. In your opinion, what is the cause of this unfortunate number. If you had the power to make a change what three things would you recommend for improving these numbers?
The financial industry has a form of communication that is extremely sophisticated, and I believe we need to simplify the language and concepts we use in order to democratize financial literacy; this applies not only to financial jargon, but also to making financial statements and other documentation easier to comprehend.
I would a) start promoting financial education at an early age at school, b) modify the language & concepts of the finance industry to democratize financial literacy, and c) promote a less theoretical and more practical approach that nowadays you can leverage with technology and applications so everyone can comprehend the basics of finance.
From an insider’s perspective, when it comes to finance if you had to advise your adult child about five non-intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say?
1) Start by finding something intuitive, based on your experiences and life journey. This is the starting point for most investors.
2) Gather all necessary information from existing literature (books, reports, case studies, podcasts) to challenge or strengthen your view. In the world we live in, information is power, so always upgrade your thinking with the best information out there.
3) The most valuable asset in investing (and life!) is an open and flexible mind. Always be prepared to be proven wrong and be humble enough to challenge your views.
4) Don’t rush it. Today we live in an abundance of information, which makes it difficult to differentiate what is valuable and what is not. Take your time to educate yourself before making a decision. Remember that “slow and steady” wins the race.
5) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (the term we financiers use is “diversification”). I cannot stress how important this is. Diversify your wealth not only in terms of asset class but also financial instruments that are associated with companies that are at different stages in their growth / development cycle. This will strengthen your position in the face of market and economic volatility.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you get to where you are? Would you share a story about that?
When I started my career in Wealth Management, I was very fortunate to have two mentors that catapulted my career. Back in 2000, they entrusted me to be part of a project to disrupt the Wealth Management industry and build a multi-family office. At that time, I was working in the tech industry and thought I had left the finance industry for good, but they brought me back. I wouldn’t be here without them. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
At the end of the day, we are shaped by the people that we encounter throughout our lives. This applies to both one’s personal and professional life. I am a firm believer that quality of life depends on the quality of one’s relationships. Apart from the two aforementioned mentors, it is the community of great, talented and strong individuals that I always surrounded myself with that has made me who I am today.
Would you please give us your favorite life lesson quote, and would you please share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is hard because I have several favorite quotes, the first being, “Once you realize that you pay for everything with your time and not with money, that is when your whole world will change and you will comprehend what actually holds value versus what you are told that is valuable” — this has been one of the most influential quotes because it made me realize that time can’t be brought back, so in the end what really matters is to devote your time to things that make you happy.
This goes in hand-in-hand with another quote: “Happiness is doing what you want to do, where you want, with whom you want as much as you want.” To me, this quote represents how I manage my time, my life, and how I try to bring the highest value to what I do. At the end of the day, I believe it is my responsibility to leave my surroundings in a better state than how I found them, and that is why it is very important to know the value you bring to the table and how to use it.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people what would that be?
It would be that everyone should put special effort into understanding who they are, who they want to be and where they want to go. This will have an impact on every aspect of their life, from how they are in the workplace, as women, wives, mothers or business owners. This mindset allows for continuous evolution and facilitates progress, such as meeting the right people or working for the company they like. Being able to really get to know themselves will allow them to be their best in every aspect of their lives.
In my case, being transparent about what I have experienced as a woman in the workplace in the finance industry has allowed me to promote growth. I always say that you don’t have to be perfect to inspire others; let people be inspired by how you deal with your own imperfections. To be able to bring this approach to the largest amount of people helps to shift the status quo of how women are perceived in the workplace. We are the perfect example of this evolution and for that reason we have to be transparent and be ourselves wherever we go — just speak our minds.
Thank you for all of these great insights!