“In terms of graduate applications to employers in financial services, only around 20 per cent are female. The fact that there are few women at senior levels is really a symptom of a problem that starts much earlier than that," says UBS Asset Management head of Australian equities research Marissa Rossi (pictured).
From growing up in northern Queensland, taking a graduate role in equities investment, rising to a senior post at global financial servcies giant UBS, Rossi has attained insights into women’s under-representation at senior levels in the finance industry.
“I think women are under-represented at every level of equity investing. All the statistics say direct share ownership is lower for women than it is for men.
“There’s a very clear impetus for institutions in such a competitive industry to increase their pool of talent and the one who gets it right first, that’s a massive competitive advantage.”
She says few female graduates consider equity analysis as a career because of in-built perceptions. “A lot of our perception is driven by our perception of Wall Street as a fairly ruthless, aggressive culture with very long working hours. That can be true in some parts of investment banking. Funds management is one area within finance where more flexibility is possible. It’s not transaction-driven like investment banking is.”
Rossi has three children aged seven, five and 18 months. She has had a flexible working arrangement since 2009. “I’ve been at UBS for a long time and it continues to work well for both me and the team.”
She encourages women to consider a career in finance. “Recent research out of the US suggests that less than 10 per cent of fund managers are female. I think funds management is a best-kept secret. It is such an incredibly rewarding, interesting, challenging, diverse job. I work with smart, driven people.”
Not the most obvious career choice
Growing up in the small town of Ayr in northern Queensland, 88 kilometres from Townsville, a career in finance wasn’t Rossi’s most obvious choice. “I grew up in the country so I had no exposure to the world of finance,” Rossi says. “I started out in a commerce law degree intending to be an accountant like my father.”
Rossi reflects on her career trajectory. She enjoyed accounting at high school and went on to study commerce at the University of Queensland. “In the third year of my commerce degree I did some finance subjects and I was totally captivated by the concepts and ideas and I decided then that was what I wanted to do.”
She started out in a graduate role in an equities investment team and was inspired. “When I looked around at the senior members of my team I knew I was in the right place and that I was on the right path,” she says. “Their jobs seemed amazing to me and I knew that was the job I wanted.”
Rossi joined UBS in 2001 as an equity analyst and within a few years had her own stock coverage – companies she was responsible for researching and making recommendations on.
In 2007 she was promoted to head of research. Since then equity analysts on the UBS team have reported to her. In 2012 she took on portfolio management responsibility as deputy to the core portfolios and as lead portfolio manager on the Australian equities sustainable strategy. As an equity analyst she is responsible for healthcare and gaming.
Rossi also specialises in sustainable investing after UBS acquired a sustainable fund in 2012 for which she was given responsibility.
“The philosophy behind sustainable investing is that companies will do better financially, over the long term, if they take care of their employees and customers, protect the environment, and have strong governance structures in place to ensure the business is well managed.”