Lunch with Willie Hartley Russell

Anna Dumas taking lunch with Smith & Williamson’s recent hire, Willie Hartley Russell, at Rowley’s in Mayfair.

In case anyone thinks this sounds rather worthy, I should mention that Rowley’s – a home from home for carnivorous members of the Jermyn Street set – was once the site of the original Wall’s sausage factory.

While not having the most enticing of antecedents, it’s now the kind of pleasing unfussy eatery (there wasn’t a garnish in sight) where old boys gather to put the world to rights over a chateaubriand, which is exactly what we did.

Hartley Russell, who was taken on by Smith & Williamson in October as a charities specialist, was previously a senior director on the charities team at BlackRock.

Both he and colleague Gerry Wright joined last year to beef up the firm’s charity offering. Slicing apart a tantalisingly rare piece of steak slathered in béarnaise sauce, I asked about his reasons for joining and what his role involves;

‘I joined Smith & Williamson simply because it’s a very impressive firm, and it’s an interesting time for the charity sector,’ Hartley Russell told me.

‘Joining as a partner makes the experience particularly exciting because we contribute capital into the business, so our interests are very much aligned with those of our clients.’

Expanding its reach

The charities space currently accounts for around 10% of Smith & Williamson’s total assets under management. With around 171,000 registered charities in the UK, totalling almost £100 billion of investments, it’s easy to see why the firm is looking to expand its reach in the sector.

Between surreptitious attempts to remove the handful of béarnaise-drenched fries that had dropped in my lap, I asked about the specifics involved with working with charities, and why he felt his firm is particularly well placed to serve them.

‘Charities will always need a bespoke service because they have such different investment needs,’ he said. ‘If you’re a healthcare trust, for example, you might wish to exclude tobacco in your portfolio. If you’re a Catholic order, you might want to avoid anything that is contrary to the sanctity of life. Each charity will have very specific requirements, which we are able to tailor to their needs.’

He added that beyond being aware of differing portfolio needs, an investment manager working with charities also needs to be aware of the often varying levels of financial expertise among trustees.

Levels of expertise

‘Different charities have different levels of experience. You need to have the ability to relate to all types,’ said Hartley Russell.

‘[For example] livery companies and universities will often have investment committees. They’ll also be able to call upon a host of experts – so you need to be extremely confident in your process,’ he added.

As two sticky tartes tatins arrived at the table, we moved on to the biggest challenge ethical portfolio constructors face: knowing where to draw the line with degrees of separation to investments that don’t fit the mandate.

‘Well that’s the great debate, just how selective can you be? Most investment managers will use a screening service which draws a clear line for you,’ he said.

‘Smith & Williamson can take a very black and white approach where necessary or adopt a more pragmatic approach when required. There are many shades of grey!’