Finding Good Alternatives

Sylvain Roy is keeping Fiera Capital on the cutting edge by embracing nontraditional investment strategies while reconfiguring his own position for greater efficacy

Sylvain Roy, Chief Investment Officer & Executive VP of Alternative Strategies

5 Questions
with Sylvain Roy

What does innovation mean to your company?
It’s part of our DNA. Every time there’s an oppor­tunity to do something different, we will explore it. But whether its formal or informal, we build a business case for it. The goal is to find a win-win-win—for the clients, Fiera, and the shareholders.

Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
I don’t think so, because we are a multistrategies company. There’s not just one idea; I want them all to be good.

How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
You have to encourage it. Cultivate it. The people have to know that they can come up with a solution and that it will be seriously considered.

Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
For us, as long as we can keep bringing things that will make the portfolios and client situation better, we’ll be fine. Sometimes it’s not the creation of new strategies but just to better use what we already have.

How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
I don’t think it has changed. Innovation is innovation. For sure the competition is much stronger than it used to be. In the market, we used to compete amongst ourselves, but now it’s global.

Even with more than $82 billion in assets managed and more than 400 employees spread across seven offices in North America, Fiera Capital Corporation remains committed to being as entrepreneurial as the day it was founded, in September 2003. For Sylvain Roy, chief investment officer and executive vice president of alternative strategies, this has meant keeping the company’s long-held values—including its focus on nontraditional investments—close to heart. But he’s also working to redefine his role in order to help Fiera find new ways to add to the nearly $3 billion it currently has in assets under management.

While renowned for its portfolio-management skills and its commitment to personalized investment solutions, Fiera stands out for its expertise in both traditional and alternative investment strategies, including hedge funds, private lending, structured products, and real-asset investment. “Ultimately, we believe that there is not just one way to create value and that complementarity and diversification are important to meet clients’ objectives,” Roy says.

Fiera maintains a results-oriented environment in which employees are compensated on their performance through bonuses, and this helps ensure that they make the right investment decisions for each client. As additional motivation, when Roy structures a team, he always gives one individual personal responsibility to keep its projects moving. “What makes us successful is the fact that our organization and all of our structures are very centred on making people accountable,” Roy says. “Employees’ happiness needs to be aligned with the happiness of the clients.”

Roy joined Fiera in 2004, and according to him, its “take charge” mind-set can be traced back to its early days, when it first began to prize personal ownership and flexibility. Roy was hired by Fiera’s president, and he started as the head of derivatives and the head of quant strategies. By 2008, he was the assistant chief investment officer, and by 2013, he was chief investment officer, a position he still holds today, along with his title as executive vice president of alternative strategies.

Roy’s role right now entails a number of duties: ensuring clients’ needs are met, developing new strategies, and overseeing acquisitions. To ensure Fiera’s continued development, he’s reorganizing his position to have more flexibility and reach. “It’s probably a job for two or three people full-time,” Roy says, “so I’m looking to hire a couple key individuals.”

Roy is in a constant search for more smart people, which helps keep Fiera ahead of others in its industry. “My way to determine if I should hire someone is asking if I would fear seeing that person as my competitor,” Roy says.

How Are You Growing?

“People are attracted to Fiera because of the momentum we have had for the last 10 years. We’ve been growing and delivering on our investments. There is no status quo here. We always want to move forward.” -Sylvain Roy, Chief Investment Officer & Executive VP of Alternative Strategies

Additionally, Roy has learned that innovation in his field doesn’t come from bold risks, so he instead concentrates on increasing the breadth of his company’s investment scope. This approach gives Fiera a greater budget to dedicate to the testing of new strategies in new markets and the hiring of new people. “Also, at Fiera, we are proud that ideas come from everywhere and not just from the top,” Roy says. “It’s about keeping ourselves open.”

In the near future, Roy will look for more ways to improve himself and his team. “We have been very busy through the acquisition, integration, and development of new strategy, so we’ve been a little self-centred,” he says.

Moving forward, he and Fiera’s focus is on actively building relationships with external people instead of waiting for clients and stakeholders to approach the company. “I never refuse to meet anyone, because we never know today how we can help each other tomorrow,” Roy says. “Every partner, every provider we have should be approached with a win-win relationship in mind, and we’ll continue to be successful.”