Born in Tough Times

Interview with Anabel Mifsud, CEO of Fexserv Fund Services

Launching a fund administration business at the start of the global financial crisis was no easy task, says Anabel Mifsud, CEO of Fexserv Fund Services. But the company has taken the challenge in its stride and is today a household name in fund administration.

Anabel Mifsud, CEO of Fexserv Fund ServicesPicture: Anabel Mifsud, CEO of Fexserv Fund Services

Fexserv Fund Services was set up in August 2008, shortly after the launch of FinanceMalta. Can you give us a brief introduction to Fexserv Funds Services?

We form part of the Fexserv Group of Companies, which has grown into one of the leading companies in Malta’s financial and investment services industry. The fund administration business was set up 14 years ago as a joint venture with SGGG, a Canadian fund administrator. Their objective was to access the European market at a time when the fund industry was growing. Back then, the main fund admin providers in Malta were the banks, HSBC and BOV. Our venture was among the first independent fund admin businesses on the island.

In 2018, the Fexserv Group took over the whole shareholding, and Fexserv Fund Services is now fully owned by Bastion Holdings, which is the mother company of all the financial services within the group. Throughout the past decade and a half, our business has evolved significantly. In addition to fund administration, we hold an AIFM as well as a MiFD licence, while also offering corporate services and retirement schemes administration.

The company’s start coincided with the onset of the global financial crisis. How did the crisis affect the first years of operation?

I joined in August 2008 to set up the company. In September, we were in Toronto to work on the new venture with our partners. It was actually then that the financial crisis started, which changed the asset management landscape profoundly. In the years preceding the financial crisis, the more established jurisdictions such as Luxembourg and Ireland only accepted larger funds. There was a vibrant market for smaller jurisdictions such as Malta to take on smaller funds. However, with the onset of the financial crisis, the situation changed. The set-up of new funds was not as common as before, and suddenly, the larger centres started going after smaller funds, too. In this competitive environment, it wasn’t easy to win business. While SGGG was quite big in Canada, and they also had an office in the Cayman Islands, they weren’t very well known in Europe. So, although we had their support, we were still a new name. At the same time, the whole regulatory environment was changing. Looking back, I can say that the situation was quite challenging. However, it also gave us more time to work on our policies and procedures, and we built a very strong proposition.

What do you see as Fexserv’s greatest success and what has been the company’s biggest “lesson learned“ in terms of growing and developing a fund administration business?

Although we were a joint venture, we were never a back office for our Canadian partners. We always had our own portfolio, and no business was transferred to us. We had to go out and get our own business. I think establishing ourselves as one of the go-to names in the fund administration business was one of our biggest accomplishments.

In terms of lessons learned, there are three. Firstly, it takes time to convert. Start-up managers in particular are taking longer to take decisions and that’s understandable. They have many questions, and we do our outmost to answer them and help them get going. Secondly, you need to adapt as the regulatory environment is constantly evolving. Thirdly, flexibility is key. Going out with a fixed service offering is not enough, you need to fully understand a client’s needs and ideally offer that extra that others don’t.

Fexserv Funds AnniversaryPicture: Fexserv Fund Services 10th Anniversary event in 2018.

What can you tell us about the funds that you administer today?

Our portfolio is very diverse, covering different fund types, strategies and sizes. The majority are Maltese funds. We administer PIFs, AIFs, NAIFs and UCITS. The typical size is around €20 to €30 million, but we also have funds with more assets under management. We are very proud to be administering what is probably the largest regulated crypto fund in the EU. Back in 2018, we were the first ones to set up a regulated crypto fund on behalf of a client. Since then we have been servicing many of them, and one recently exceeded the
€400 million. In addition, we also service offshore funds, which do not require the administrator to be based in the same jurisdiction as the fund. Usually, the manager of these funds is based in Europe and prefers a European administrator in the same time zone.

What sets you apart from your competitors in the fund administration business?

Our team is very knowledgeable. In larger fund centres, staff are usually specialised; however, we made the conscious decision to train our staff on all aspects of fund administration. This approach works very well for start-up funds, which require more guidance. We also don’t see ourselves as a service provider to the fund, but more as a partner. Ultimately, if the fund performs well, we will do well, too.

Can you tell us about a challenge that had to be mastered throughout the past years?

A major challenge, not just for us but for financial services firms in general, was and still is finding sufficient resources. We have long been very close to the educational institutions in Malta, and pursued a talent strategy that comprises attracting junior people, training staff and promoting employees internally. This really works well for us.

As you reflect on Malta’s investment funds and asset management sector over the past 15 years, what comes to mind?

The main change that comes to mind is the altered regulatory scenario, which has put significantly more responsibility on the service providers, especially from an Anti-Money Laundering and compliance perspective. While navigating the evolving regulatory landscape is certainly challenging, it has also allowed us to grow our business. For example, we sought authorisation as AIFM Manager to provide a regulatory structure for smaller and start-up funds which found it difficult to cope with the requirements of the AIFM Directive. Today, we also increasingly focus on the structuring of funds, and it definitely helps that we know what should be in the offering documents from a fund admin perspective. A challenge over the past 15 years was definitely to keep fees acceptable for our market as costs increased due to the introduction of new technology and rising compliance requirements.

Fexserv Funds

Where do you see opportunities for growth?

I always wondered why private equity and real estate funds go to Luxembourg. These are not retail funds, so why does the jurisdiction matter so much? I feel that the level of service that Malta can provide is not matched anywhere else. We can still give personal attention to each and every client. As I already mentioned, our employees are very familiar with all aspects of the fund business. I also think that there is an opportunity to link the concept of a “notified” fund to the Professional Investor Fund (PIF). The PIF remains very popular among smaller managers because of the flexibility it offers; however, they still need to go through a licensing process, which can be time-consuming.

What’s been most surprising to you about Malta’s journey as a financial service centre so far?

The sheer diversity of the industry, not just in the investment funds and asset management sector, but in financial services in general. For a small country, Malta has built up a pretty diverse portfolio of services.

Bio:

Anabel joined Fexserv Fund Services in 2008 and today occupies the position of Managing Director. She started her career in audit and assurance with PwC where she was involved within different industries and worked in offices including Malta and London. Subsequently, she took up accountancy and finance positions with leading entities operating out of Malta including an appointment within the Finance Department of HSBC Securities Services (Malta) Limited. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, an Honours degree in Accountancy, and a Masters degree in Financial Services from the University of Malta. Anabel sits on the committee at the Malta Asset Servicing Association (MASA) and represents MASA on the Joint Committee for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Funding of Terrorism chaired by the Financial Intelligence Unit. She is also actively involved in various industry discussions and is a visiting lecturer at the University of Malta

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