Graduate recognised in list of socially responsible investors

“I think my studies in philosophy in particular have been useful as an investor”

– Alumnus Usman Ali on being recognised for socially responsible investing

Last month we shared the story that alumnus Usman Ali has been recognised in the top 30 under 30 list for socially responsible investing. Since graduating with a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Usman has been working in the fund management industry and has joined Mobius Capital Partners in July 2018.

In a recent announcement, the Socially Responsible Investment Conference has listed the 30 top socially responsible investors under 30 with Usman being named as one of the award winners.

University of Hull Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Lea said: “Our vision is to shape a fairer, brighter and carbon neutral future as this is what colleagues and students have consistently told us is important to them and our University. Usman’s work is an excellent example of how our graduates go on to live by those principles through their employment. I congratulate him on receiving this recognition of his work and hope his career continues to thrive.”

We caught up with Usman to find out more about how his time at Hull influenced his career choices and his commitment to social responsibility.

Usman Ali – Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 2014

During my time at university, I was a member of the Trading and Investment Society. This was a great way of learning practical investment skills – not least because we were using real money! I also took a class by Dr. Mahrukh Doctor, which analysed the rise of the BRICs. Not only did this stimulate my interest in emerging market investing but led me to learning about the largest asset manager in the world – Blackrock. How could that be? Mahrukh had been serving on the Board of Blackrock’s Latin America Investment Trust for several years. I was fascinated by BlackRock at the time and started to learn more about the asset management industry.

It was a true honour to be recognised by the sustainable, responsible and impact investing community as an inaugural winner of the “30 Under 30 Award.” I just spent a couple of days in Colorado Springs at the SRI conference with some of the other winners and I have been amazed by how driven and energetic they are. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is the next President of the United States! It is a great network of other like-minded individuals who care about sustainable, responsible and impactful investing.

Sustainable investing is about integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into investment analysis for the long-term. Increasingly, capital markets have become focused on the short-term which is having unintended negative consequences for society at large. According to research from McKinsey, 55% of executives from companies without a long-term culture say their company would delay a new project to hit quarterly earnings targets, even if it sacrificed some value. The good news is that the sustainable investment industry has seen phenomenal growth over the last couple of years and this is expected to grow. Research shows that millennials are key drivers of this. In the U.S. alone, more than $30tn is expected to fall under the control of millennials over the next 20 years.

I believe my studies in philosophy in particular have been useful as an investor because the discipline forces you to think independently and allows you to rigorously assess human nature – useful skills when you’re trying to navigate the complexity of markets. Markets embody a lot of short-term noise – it is unbelievable how many fallacies you hear on a day-to-day basis. Being able to sieve through this and focus on the fundamentals is a skill which philosophical rigour taught me.

I believe the asset management industry is a fascinating career choice for anyone interested in analytical work. It is however important to have a point of view but also to be able to accept when one is wrong. Do not be disheartened if you aren’t studying finance or business – the industry is always looking for contrarian thinkers regardless of if you come from a philosophy, physics or legal background. Active investing requires a lot of reading – if you’re able to get through Kant or Wittgenstein, analysing company reports pales in comparison! It is important for undergraduates to show an interest in the stock market through joining the investment society or managing their own portfolio of investments. I would also highly recommend spring and summer internships within the industry. Whilst these are highly competitive, it is important that students conduct thorough research on each firm and tailor their application accordingly – there is nothing worse than a generic cover letter which has been used for every application! A couple of books which may be useful to learn more about investing:

  • Margin of Safety by Seth Klarman
  • The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
  • Investing: The Last Liberal Art byRobert Hagstrom
  • Shameless segway: it would be rude to not promote my boss! Passport for Profits by Dr. Mark Mobius

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