Johannesburg – Walk down a side alley in Munich, beneath apartments with net curtains in the windows, past figures of female superheroes on a cafe storefront, and you come to the unprepossessing headquarters of a $2 trillion asset manager. On the fifth floor, an elegantly dressed woman leans forward to field questions. She’s focused. In her hands is a coffee mug emblazoned with the word “integrity” in six languages.
Meet Jackie Hunt, one of the most important women in global finance. The 48-year-old South African runs Allianz’s asset management and US life insurance divisions. In July, Hunt took over responsibility for Pacific Investment Management, home of what was once the world’s largest bond fund, and Allianz Global Investors. On her watch, Pimco reported its first net inflows since 2013, ending a painful period that culminated in the departure of star co-founder Bill Gross. Hunt doesn’t take credit for Pimco’s revival, though. “It’s great to come in at a point in time that’s an inflection point,” she says in an hourlong interview. “But this is a result of a lot of effort by a lot of people before I arrived.”
A trained accountant with little background in money management, she’s taken on a formidable challenge. The industry is under pressure to consolidate as fees decline, ultralow interest rates erode returns, and investors abandon active managers for low-cost passive strategies. Pimco, the firm based in Newport Beach, Calif., that Allianz bought in 2000, could hardly loom larger on her agenda. Three years of bleeding have cut Pimco’s assets by about a quarter, to $1.47 trillion. Gross’s acrimonious exit in 2014 damaged the brand and fueled criticism of Allianz, which traditionally pursued a hands-off approach to avoid antagonising its highflying fund managers.
So what in the world attracted Hunt to the job? “Going into an organization that didn’t have a challenge wouldn’t be interesting for me,” she says. “At Allianz, I felt I could contribute.” In her new role, Hunt is expected to be more hands-on, overseeing the strategic direction of asset managers to make sure they’re aligned with the group.
Her route there was full of twists and turns. Starting out as an audit manager at Deloitte & Touche in Johannesburg, she began a career that took her to four continents and eventually landed her in the insurance industry in the UK At Standard Life, the Edinburgh-based insurer where she was chief financial officer from 2010 until 2013, she and Chief Executive Officer David Nish revamped the business model. They shifted away from capital-heavy life insurance to fee-generating asset management, a transformation that other insurers have since followed. According to Hunt, the line between asset management and insurance has blurred. Clients ultimately want the same thing: returns. “Customers don’t care about the product; they care about the outcome,” she says. “Allianz, with a world-class life insurer and two world-class asset managers, can provide both the protection and the investment expertise.”
People who’ve worked with Hunt describe her as smart, respected, direct, not big on small talk—and not lacking in ambition. In 2013 she finally got the chance…