WAM Vault

The importance of community during the Great Lockdown

Kate discusses how Wilson Asset Management has responded to the coronavirus crisis and shares the positive surprises that have emerged under lockdown.

Kate Thorley The biggest upside has been spending time with the kids and with Ian as a family unit. That’s definitely the upside and probably equally, just as much a challenge. To have a zoom call where you can see everyone’s faces on screen, you’re seeing people in their home environment. One of my colleagues said to me, “Kate, I don’t think I’ve spoken to you in the last two weeks without one of your children coming up to you saying that they’re hungry.” Coming out of this, whilst it’s too soon to say what normal looks like, I think technology will play a really big part in our lives going forward, and we’re going to really miss not being able to see our investors. In some ways, we’re appreciating the simple things in life again and appreciating how important our families are to us. The sense of community was a really big one. Stories of say on Anzac Day morning, a shareholder said that he went out at 6:00 AM and everyone in his street was out on the street and what a lovely sense of community that gave him. Normally people probably wouldn’t be as friendly and engaging, but people are actually stopping and having a chat and checking in with people. I guess you hear all these lovely stories of neighbours checking in on their neighbours and making sure that they’ve got access to food and supplies, et cetera. So, I think that’s been really lovely.

James Marlay Around $3 billion in funds under management. It’s obviously a really big responsibility. In terms of getting the business operating at a state where you were comfortable with the custody you have over those people’s money, what were the most important things for you to get done and get right, to get the team operating in a way that made you feel comfortable?

Kate Thorley One of the first things we did before we moved everyone and closed the office, was to cancel the investor presentations. I think we did that at the beginning of March when it became apparent that the safety of our investors needed to be a priority as well. By cancelling it early, meant that we can then adapt to, “Well, how are we going to best engage with our 80,000 shareholders?” Not only were we facing this health crisis, we also had an economic crisis in markets that were incredibly volatile. There’s no doubt when you’re responsible for shareholders’ retirement savings that one of the most important things is not only how you’re managing that money, but also how you’re communicating with your investors.

James Marlay Have you thought about what going back to work looks like?

Kate Thorley I have, and we have as a team. Obviously, we’re talking about it all the time. I think it’s too soon, to be honest. I really think there’s no need to rush back. We need to think about as a company, the impact of rushing back into the city and having people back on public transport. If we’re able to continue working in this current state for a bit longer and just let society ease back into things, then I think that’s something that we can do.

James Marlay We’ve talked a bit about the positives. What are some of the things that the team say don’t work? What can’t be replaced?

Kate Thorley With technology, which has been brilliant, there still have been some challenges from a tech perspective. You will be midway through a board meeting and something freezes and that’s just technology, that’s the internet. We’ve been very fortunate in this country, to have decent internet.

Whilst we’re all set up from a tech perspective with laptops, et cetera, and our mobile phones and access to emails. I think we underestimated the impact for those that have got children. Once the schools closed, having to try and manage homeschooling on top of managing your work commitments, has been a really big challenge for a lot of families.

There’s a lot of families that are doing it really tough from a financial perspective, with partners being stood down or losing their jobs or they’re concerned about losing their jobs. There’s a huge amount of anxiety and stress in the community, which I think we underestimate. I think that the challenges are definitely from an economic perspective in terms of our country. And globally as they have shut down economies and the impact that has on families and on individuals. You can’t underestimate the impact of that on people’s wellbeing, on their mental health and all those sorts of things.

James Marlay What’s the single message you’d leave with shareholders?

Kate Thorley I just hope that they’re all well and safe at this time and let them know that the investment team are working really hard, managing their money and their capital and that we’ll miss them. We’ll miss them this month. Hopefully we’ll see them in November in person, in terms of a sense of community, let’s hope, we’re able to see them again soon.

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