As he reaches the milestone of 40 years in asset management (20 of which at Sarasin & Partners), we caught up with Henry Boucher, Partner and Investment Strategist, for his insights on four decades of investing.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen over the last 40 years?
When I started, the office atmosphere was very different to what we know today. Letters were written out by hand or dictated into a Dictaphone to be typed up on a typewriter. Some people used desktop mechanical adding machines – the early forerunners of calculators – which added to the din. Smoking was also still allowed indoors, so the office was a very hazy, noisy place compared with today.
Over time life has been improved by many technological advances, for instance the emergence of the earliest brick-like mobile phones. Eventually, the arrival of the internet brought email, e-commerce, the cloud and social media, adding varying degrees of distraction and productivity.
Very soon we will see another rocket-boost of technological acceleration from artificial intelligence. Like the technological shifts we have seen over the last 40 years, this will not necessarily be a threat to our existence but it does have the potential to be a significant boost to our productivity and efficiency.
How has the investment world changed over the past four decades?
An encouraging shift we’ve seen is the financial world evolving to evaluate businesses in a more holistic manner. Back when I started out, people tended to have a very narrow definition of financial capital. It is now more commonly recognised that financial capital cannot exist without the natural, human and social capital on which it rests.
There has also been enormous growth in passive investment. This has lowered costs, but comes at the expense of removing shareholder influence as the ultimate owners of businesses. For the last 20 years, Sarasin has championed stewardship activities, voting and engaging with companies, as a key component of investing for the best long-term returns and to manage risks.
Looking ahead, what will have the biggest impact on the next decade?
This interview started in the asset management office of 40 years ago and the gradual changes since then offer an insight on the evolving shape of Tomorrow’s World. Just as the cigarette smoke and mechanical din were blown away by social and technological developments, so will the unsustainable corporate profits from uncosted negative externalities. Dependence on nicotine makes it hard to quit, but government Tobacco Control Plans and public opinion have seen the number of smokers in the UK decline by nearly 60% since 1982. Dependence on fossil fuels may also be hard to quit, but government climate regulations are tightening. The increasingly obvious rapid rise in global temperatures beyond the human optimal thermal comfort zone of 22–26°C may well trigger a surprisingly fast shift in public opinion.
It is not original to predict that technological development will have a massive impact in the next decade. While there will be huge benefits, there will also be disruption to some lifestyles and to established profit streams supporting some share prices. It is easy to fear change. But one lesson of the last 40 years is not to overestimate what technology can do; as the author Douglas Adams put it: “Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet”.
 Office for National Statistics, Smoking prevalence in the UK and the impact of data collection changes, December 2021
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