Late last year, as Ash Williams reflected on his accomplishments at the $250 billion Florida State Board of Administration following the announcement of his retirement, he told Institutional Investor that he wanted to stay in the investing industry. Several months later, the former chief investment officer has gotten his wish: Williams has decided to join J.P. Morgan Asset Management as vice-chair, reporting to Keith Cahill, head of North American Institutional.
Williams has plenty of experience in the private sector, including a stint earlier in his career as president and CEO of Schroders Capital Management and as an executive at Fir Tree Partners. After leaving the FSBA, he took his time finding the right spot and told II that JPMAM, with $2.7 trillion in assets under management, was the perfect fit. “What I was really wrestling with is, I was 67 years old when I retired from the Florida State Board. I [had] worked in all kinds of situations public and private, and at this point in your life, you really want to make this decision properly. This is not a time for a fumble or miscue.”
When asked to dive into some of the specific factors influencing his decision, Williams immediately pointed to the benefits that the asset manager gets from being part of JPMorgan Chase, including the fact that JPM’s banking platform collects business, credit card, and other data and can paint a picture of U.S. consumer behavior in real time.
“As Bruce Springsteen said, first you have to get your facts learned. And gathering facts is something J.P. Morgan has an extraordinary information edge in, if for no other reason than the banking side of the company banks the majority of this country,” said Williams, noting that JPMAM, with a global footprint, gets similar information feeds from other parts of the world.
More importantly, he said, the manager has demonstrated that it can turn data into actionable insights. “For data to be informative, there has to be analysis of the facts, and there have to be inferences about the trends, the changes, the opportunities and the risks those facts are signaling.” In fact, over the last few years, the asset manager has developed sophisticated artificial intelligence capabilities and predictive analytics tools for fundamental portfolio managers, advisers, and others at the firm.
Cahill added, “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a strategic partnership, but, for example, if we can get real-time data on where half the population of the U.S. is spending, how much they’re saving, [and] what they’re spending on, if gives us real insight about where the economy is going, before broader reports are digested.”
Among other areas that Cahill and Williams will explore and expand on are environmental, social, and governance investing and retirement savings solutions. Given the trillions in capital that will be required to get to a zero-carbon footprint in a few decades, Williams said, “I find it hard to believe that when you look at that need, there aren’t ways to make investments that are completely prudent and very exciting, and at the same time very constructive.”