This Women’s Month we chat to CoreShares’ Client Coverage Executive, Michelle Noth about ETFs, and balancing life and work.

What do you love about working with index funds and ETFs?

I am passionate about these types of investments and there are still many South African investors who haven’t yet started using them. We’ve seen a huge ramp-up in adoption rates internationally over the last decade (the US and Europe, in particular) and I find it very rewarding being able to introduce investment solutions to South African investors that I genuinely believe are in their best interests. My colleagues at CoreShares share my passion and it’s exciting to play a role in such a fast-growing product category in South Africa. 

What is your current role?

I joined CoreShares Asset Management a little over two years ago. We’re a lean, efficient, growing company so I wear a lot of different ‘hats’. Most of my time is spent doing sales and marketing across various client categories, but I also sit on the investment committee, oversee the market making and distribution network for the CoreShares’ ETF and Unit Trust ranges and get involved in lots of other projects, so there is never a dull moment. 

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you navigate it?

“The only constant in life is Change” – I started my career at the beginning of 2006, so enjoyed the last gasp of the bull market and golden era for financial services before the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, which was a baptism of fire for me early on in my career. At the time, I was working for Citigroup in London and, after Bear Sterns and Lehman’s went under, our share price was trading below $1 by November 2008 (down from a high of $56 before the crisis started). My team was made redundant, as was about half of the trading floor. I had worked incredibly hard to get that job and was devastated. However, I was fortunate that a former colleague recommended me for a job at iShares, then part of Barclays Global Investors, which was where I first specialized in index investments and the rest is history.

At the time I didn’t realise it, but this incredible lesson in resilience so early on in my career was a gift, plus the pivot into indexation was the best thing that could have happened to me. 

Do you have any “pearls of wisdom” that have been helpful?

“Done is better than perfect” Sheryl Sandberg

I love this quote because it’s absolutely essential yet such a challenge to adopt this mindset. Working in finance is competitive and most people I’ve worked with are brilliant. We all hold ourselves to very high standards, which are sometimes unrealistic given the chaos and unpredictability of “real life” combined with near-term deadlines. There is never enough time to get things “perfect”, every day, in every aspect of our lives. Don’t fail by striving for perfection in everything. Focus on the big things, make sure they are close enough to perfect to secure the desired outcome, and then live with ‘good enough’ for everything else.

“Take it from whence it comes”

I don’t know who first coined this phrase, but my very wise mother taught it to me. In short, everyone has their own agenda, and you should never take anything personally. 

How close are we to achieving gender equality in the world of financial services?

There has been a lot of change in our industry and the notorious 80’s (think “Wolf of Wall Street”) are thankfully a distant memory. We’ve moved on from a culture where, for example, investment banks often hired top athletes from universities because they thought they knew how to “win at any cost”, into a more professional, responsible and holistic investment culture. These days, we look at long-term performance (not just short-term profits) and there is a greater emphasis on triple bottom line reporting and ESG-themed investing. Some of the softer (and difficult to measure) skills have become more valued, such as empathy, compassion, self-awareness, conflict management and collaboration, to name a few. Women tend to excel at these soft skills, and this is increasingly being recognised and rewarded. While women still account for a smaller percentage of the workforce, we are managing to attract and retain more women in our industry and the numbers are steadily growing.

On the matter of juggling family commitments, to truly achieve gender equality in the workplace, we also need to achieve gender equality at home. The fact that women are physiologically the ones to carry and nurse a baby for a few months, should not mean that for the next 18 years, Mom is the only one packing school lunches, arranging playdates, ordering groceries, coordinating lifts for extra murals and excusing herself from work when kids are sick etc. As more men start to pick up their share of the family and household commitments, we will start to see a more equal playing field in the workplace. This shift is already happening, and I am very proud to say that my male colleagues who have children are all very involved parents and we have a shared understanding that “the juggle is real”. 

What is “Women in ETFs” and what do you do?

Women in ETFs (WE) is a global industry body, founded by Deborah Fuhr in London, with a mission to champion causes such as diversity and inclusion, develop and sponsor talent, recognise and honour achievements of women in the industry, and invest in the ETF community. The organisation is represented by chapters across the globe with over 6,000 members spanning Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America.

I am currently serving as the Co-Head of WE South Africa, alongside Nicola Comninos (JSE Group Chief Risk Officer). We run an annual mentorship programme, host networking events and collaborate with other organisations and industry bodies that share our values. We’re rolling out an exciting ETF-focused University Outreach programme to educate and inspire the next generation of financial professionals. Membership is free and we welcome members of all genders who share our vision.