As interest rates decline, plans should do more with cash balances – Samantha Cleyn

Doing more with cash balances and investing in alternatives top strategies at BMO GAM

As interest rates decline, plans should do more with cash balances – Samantha Cleyn

Cash and bonds for the first time in a while are an interesting topic to discuss. Interest rates are starting to decline, so now is a time to potentially think about lengthening duration a little bit, says Samantha Cleyn, managing director, head of institutional sales and service, at BMO Global Asset Management.

“Those are the conversations that we've been having with clients on the fixed income side, to do slightly different things with cash balances. For many of our corporate clients, we continue to make a big push into alternatives.

Cleyn adds, “It's a broader mandate for us to democratize access to private markets for smaller investors. On the institutional side, there are a lot of smaller DB plans that just don't have internal staff or a governance budget and the resources to be able to do anything sophisticated on the private market side. It would be too costly.

“A lot of the solutions that are coming out with that are more Evergreen in nature, more of a solution where they can get a lot of diversified exposure to private markets.”

She says in addition, BMO GAM continues to be viewed as a leader in responsible investment in in Canada. “We continue to build out that capability and the way that we look at ESG, we've picked two core tenants, which is a climate action and social equality. Our team focuses on working with portfolio management teams on ESG integration across our strategies.

“Where our team really stands out is all the work they do within industry in terms of advocating for policy change. We have an incredible stewardship and an engagement practice within BMO.”

Build the business and the brand

Cleyn was brought on at BMO GAM in January 2023 to help build the business and the brand. In that time, BMO GAM has grown from a strong retail asset management business to a contender in institutional asset management.

Cleyn is responsible for building and implementing a channel strategy as well as the leadership and direction for BMO GAM’s institutional business. Her previous experience includes leading institutional efforts nationally at T. Rowe Price Canada and prior to that, 11 years as an investment consultant with several firms including Mercer Canada and Pavilion Advisory Group.

As she celebrates her one-year anniversary as managing director, head of institutional sales and service with the organization, Cleyn says people are just starting to get used to the institutional side of the BMO GAM business.

“A lot of people still think BMO GAM is very much a retail business,” she says. “They know us for our ETF franchise, which still represents a large portion of the assets that we manage. But my institutional team oversees close to $40 billion in assets for roughly 50 institutional clients across Canada.”  

Cleyn’s team of 14 administers and manages assets on behalf of important internal partners at the bank, “but we also have a growing external third-party business where we manage assets for pensions, foundations, endowments, and religious organizations. My mandate in this role has been to grow, to retain, and to diversify our client base and to really strengthen BMO GAM’s institutional presence and brand in Canada.” The team are in offices across the country in Montreal, QC; Toronto, ON; and Calgary, AB.

“In my first year, I put in a lot of processes, I put a structure in place for the team, and set out a vision and a business plan that was manageable and executable.”

Gaining experience at a young age

Cleyn says her past experience gave her the skills to join an asset management firm and rebuild the institutional side of the business.

“I started out as a manager researcher in a small entrepreneurial firm,” she says. “That meant everybody had to roll up their sleeves and be a generalist. It did give me an incredible opportunity to travel around the world and meet with the best portfolio managers and best asset managers out there.

“On the research side, I worked with a lot of the larger institutions in Canada to conduct manager search projects. I was able to travel with these plan sponsors around the globe to do interviews and help them select and hire the right investment manager.

“I gained an incredible wealth of experience around portfolio managers across asset classes, across styles, and across regions. It was invaluable to work with these large institutions and learn what their challenges are, how they make decisions, and how they operate.”

Cleyn built her client list and gained experience in consulting to help clients set their investment policies, to introduce and look at new asset classes, and help them structure and optimize their portfolios. She learned how to present to boards and committees and change her style across client types.

“I worked with foundations, large defined benefit plans, and the largest defined contribution plan in Canada. Coming over the to asset management side at BMO GAM, I came in knowing a lot of things as a consultant have worked at these plans.

“I always say if you've sat in their shoes, it's a lot easier to understand what they're grappling with, what their issues are, and to become the trusted advisor.”

Working with Indigenous governments

“A growing segment for us, and a very important segment for my team, is our work with Indigenous governments,” says Cleyn.

“Many years ago, the government made promises to some First Nations across Canada. Now we’re seeing a lot of these settlements start to come through and actually get paid out to a lot of these First Nations. So, they're coming into a substantial amount of wealth and it is so important they have the right advice. They need the right people around them to ensure that the money is going to last. We're a big part of that.

“I think a lot of the banks are just naturally suited to being able to work with Indigenous governments because when we when we do come to the table, it's not just about asset management, it's about a partnership.

“We could help by bringing in a retail branch into the community and we could custody the assets in trust. But we also have asset management that can come in and manage those assets. What my team and I are most proud about is the work that we've done with Indigenous communities over the last number of years.”

Ambitious growth plan

“I joined an organization that is rebuilding locally for the Canadian market.

“We're investing in the business, including new talent, developing new capabilities, and we have a pretty ambitious growth plan. To have the opportunity to be part of that, to help shape what the future looks for the institutional business here at BMO GAM is really energizing; being able to take all my collective experiences acquired as a manager researcher as a consultant and in asset management to date and be able to apply that and build a strategy.

“I love building something and being able to really make an impact and see ideas become a reality. It is one of the best things about my job.”