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Doing the Right thing

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Jack McRae speaks to Joseph Latini, chief commercial officer at MUFG Investor Services, about keeping clients happy, cultivating a positive work culture and trusting the process.

Joe Latini is a lot like Ted Lasso. The fictional character, created and played by Jason Sudeikis, overcomes challenges and scrutiny faced with being an American football coach managing an English football team with positivity, humour, and optimism.

The same unwavering passion and can-do attitude displayed by Lasso in the television series can be seen immediately in Latini. The chief commercial officer at MUFG Investor Services is full of energy and vigour as he explains: “Trust the process is the code that I live by. You have to trust that by doing the right thing, it will most certainly always work out.” It’s the Ted Lasso effect.

I laugh about it, but his character resonates with me because life (and work) is always about treating people the right way and doing the right thing.”

Throughout our call Latini discusses his life from childhood to his current position as chief commercial officer at MUFG Investor Services.

He admits, however, that he would not have believed it as a baseball-obsessed child growing up in the United States.

“If you told me as a kid, that I would become the CCO of a big investor services company, I would have laughed and said: ‘No, I’m going to be the centerfielder for the New York Yankees.”

Yet, Latini was made for his role and has always been good with people. He remembers how he “grew up sitting at my grandparents’ deli watching them as the centrepiece of their community. I watched how they talked and provided food for people, even when they didn’t have enough money. They prioritised taking care of people.”

This desire to help people led him to his first job as a paperboy, at just 10-years-old.

“I woke up early every morning before school and delivered papers to peoples’ front porch, exactly where they expected it to be,” Latini explains. That’s what my parents and grandparents taught me. If you’re going to do a job, you better do it right.”

It was only once his baseball dreams appeared beyond reach, and his time at school was drawing to a close, that Latini believed the financial services industry was where his future lay.

Latini says: “I was blessed to start my career at Morgan Stanley. I spent 17 years there and learned how to serve clients the right way. I learned to surround myself with good people, work with great clients, and ask a lot of questions. Being in a relationship management role, I was exposed to the blood and guts of everything that was happening in the financial services industry.”

Being able to help other people and offer them the support they need has always been in Latini’s blood, even if the younger version of him dreaming of playing at Yankee Stadium did not know it yet.

“If you had explained what my role now meant to the younger me, I would have said ‘that sounds like something I’d be really good at’. It all comes down to exemplary client service and that was instilled in me from when I was a little boy.”

The phone call

After 17 years at Morgan Stanley, Latini left to join a small, start-up technology company and after a couple of years, he got a phone call that changed his career and life.

“I got a call from a close friend who said, ‘Joe, MUFG is looking for someone to run the relationship management team in New York’,” Latini says.

“After that first meeting, I called my wife and said,  ‘I’m going to work at MUFG'”

From the first interaction, where Latini met with current chief operating officer McAllister (Mac) Kirschner, he knew he was destined to work there. “After that first meeting with Mac, I called my wife and said, ‘I’m going to work at MUFG, there’s something special going on there and these people are genuinely good human beings’.”

As it has always been for Latini, being surrounded by supportive, positive people is the most important factor in allowing him to find his place in the world. Just as Ted Lasso had found AFC Richmond, Latini had found MUFG Investor Services as the place to shape his and the company’s future.

He explains: “CEO, John Sergides, has been one incredible mentor. He gave me the opportunity to really roll my sleeves up and assess the company’s client service model. I dug in and identified what I thought was being done well, areas that could be improved, and then we created the Client Service Management team.”

It was through the creation of Client Service Management that Latini and his team began to have a deeper understanding of the needs and wants of their clients — not just from a business perspective, but on a personal level. This approach worked wonders.

“We started to see, year over year, exponential growth with existing clients, and so I was asked to lead our global sales organisation. At first, I hesitated — I’m not a salesperson, I’m a relationship guy,” Latini laughs. “But I knew that if we stayed true to who we are, I would be all in. We took this relationship approach to prospects, and we started to see this seismic shift in securing new business.” Today, MUFG Investor Services is known for its unique partnership model that includes curating solutions designed to help unlock exceptional value and opportunity for the world’s largest public and private funds.

After excelling in his role in charge of global sales, Latini was offered the chance to become the chief commercial officer — and he did not look back.

The glass slipper

But how does Latini and MUFG Investor Services position itself as a fund administrator and asset servicing provider to meet the evolving demands of a growing client base?

Vision and unity.

“When I walked through the doors a little over seven years ago, there was a clear vision of what we were going to do,” Latini says proudly.

“Our core business was fund administration, but as a bank-backed business who was truly focused on alternatives, we wanted to offer more, and support our clients’ needs across the entire investment value chain. Our executive management team was once in our clients’ shoes, so we intimately understand what our client wants and needs.”

Along with fund administration and asset servicing, MUFG Investor Services delivers fund financing, banking and payment solutions, securities lending, custody, foreign exchange overlay, and corporate and regulatory services, addressing fund managers’ back-, middle-, and front office needs.

Latini, who exudes a hopeful and humorous demeanour with every anecdote, memory, and analogy, finds another classic story to compare his work.

He explains how he and his team have to treat each and every client differently and shape their work according to their needs — as if moulding the slipper for Cinderella.

“When a client calls and they need something, we provide for them. We’re in the solutions business. It is like when Cinderella loses the glass slipper and people are jamming their feet into the glass, but it doesn’t fit. One size does not fit all. You must craft the right solution.”

Integral to finding the right solution for their clients is addressing the issues that are keeping them up at night. Latini believes they must be a partner that their clients can trust to get the job done, no matter what.

Organic growth

MUFG first entered the alternative asset administration business in 2013, and today, MUFG Investor Services is a global leader in asset servicing and one of the largest fund administrators in the world.

Earlier this year, MUFG Investor Services topped the trillion-dollar mark in assets under administration and Latini describes the feat as a big milestone, achieved “through building our business organically by winning new mandates, not via acquisitions. Many fund administrators and asset servicing companies are a collection of various acquisitions, but we’re intentional about building our business organically, built around the clients’ needs.”

Latini points to the company’s culture as one of the key reasons for why they have been so successful in winning mandates and expanding their business — but also credits the support of MUFG Group management for enabling them to take the reins and develop the business in their own image.

He explains: “The analogy I use is that MUFG is this massive tanker going across the ocean and MUFG Investor Services is the speedboat that can be nimble and get things done, protected by the big tanker behind us.

The challenge ahead

For the MUFG Investor Services team, there are a number of challenges that their speedboat will have to navigate in the coming months. The first is payments and cash management.

“Today you can just check your bank account on your phone. Gone are the days of manually writing and managing a chequebook.” The same goes for financial institutions.

Latini explains that MUFG Investor Services is rolling out a user-friendly banking and payments experience for global fund managers. “Our clients will have the ability to be able to have a slick and efficient, yet effective way to centrally manage their payments with their counterparties.”

The banking and payments solutions will help clients mitigate risks, reduce costs, and enhance efficiencies across their end-to-end banking and treasury needs.

“MUFG is this massive tanker going across the ocean and MUFG Investor Services is the speedboat that can be nimble and get things done”

Part of the desire for greater technological development comes from the younger, new generation of investors and Latini knows they must be prepared to meet their needs.

“There’s a new generation of investors who are very different to those around 10 to 15 years ago,” he explains. “They don’t know fax machines; they’re expecting a fully digital and seamless way to manage information and conduct business.”

MUFG Investors Services uses AI, natural language processing and machine learning to streamline data-gathering capabilities and provide more efficient data processing and workflow.

The combination of online forms for data entry and know your customer and anti-money laundering documentation creates a golden source of data that is fed into machine learning flows and is used across the entire investment ecosystem.

The other major obstacle Latini is on the lookout for is future regulatory updates appearing on the horizon. Yet, he believes MUFG Investor Services is highly prepared to steer their clients through any regulatory storm like ensuring their clients have the support they need to successfully navigate the move to T+1 in the US, the SEC changes to private fund regulation, changes to EMIR and CSDR in Europe, among others.

Location, location, location

“Our global footprint extends across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific in 17 strategic locations, creating a powerful ‘follow-the-sun’ model to serve clients,” Latini says. “We make sure that staff are located in major financial centres, where there are robust talent pools.”

“Many of our clients are seeking access to Luxembourg or Irish funds in Europe. It is important to make sure we have a presence in these locations and understand the jurisdictional regulatory changes coming down the pipeline,” he adds.

“That’s really who we are. We are different, and we’re brilliantly different”

The perception of outsourcing has changed in the last couple of decades and Latini suggests “this change comes in the form of firms seeking expertise to support various needs across the entire fund lifecycle, all from a single provider, and from a trusted partner.”

This became evident during the Covid-19 pandemic when people worked from home. Latini says: “It was very hard for some managers to ensure that everything was being done the right way by their internal teams. We got a lot of phone calls asking, ‘can you help us out?’. We did not skip a beat in getting them the support and expertise they needed.”

Following the pandemic, the alternatives industry is sitting on an unprecedented US$3.9 trillion in unspent capital. How prepared is Latini for this new wave of investment in the space?

He replies: “The alternatives ecosystem has been impacted recently by global geopolitical conflicts, inflation, rising interest rates, and market volatility. Despite this ongoing uncertainty, the scope and scale of the alternatives market is expected to expand significantly in the coming years. Industry studies predict that high-net-worth and mass affluent retail investors, exploring ways to diversify their portfolios, will bring an estimated US$500 billion to US$1 trillion in new capital in the next three years, effectively creating a new marketplace, and creating a host of operational challenges with it. Fund managers will have to decide whether to spend resources in-house to reconfigure their existing operating models—training staff, rebuilding processes, and replacing legacy technology—or to bring in an outsourcing partner to help develop and implement that new model.

That work runs the gamut from helping with specific process issues to providing a comprehensive review of their operational infrastructure with suggestions for reconfiguring technology, systems, and processes to cut costs and minimize risk.

This is a natural extension of the role that outsourcing partners already are playing. Fund managers, who once outsourced back- or middle-office functions such as post-trade settlement or accounting, are increasingly looking for support across the full trade lifecycle to coordinate front-office ‘decision’ functions, including client onboarding, trade execution and investor reporting.”

Brilliantly different

“Our chief HR officer, Sarah Mears, is a rockstar,” Latini beams. He explains how, MUFG Investor Services under Mears’ direction, created a new catchphrase for their employees —‘Brilliantly Different’.

Latini laughs: “When I first heard it, I thought, ‘Man, you nailed it!’. That’s really who we are. We are different, and we’re brilliantly different.

He explains: “We want our people to have a career, not just a job. You keep people [happy] by offering them opportunities, giving them a voice, providing a seat at the table, and being part of something special. That’s how we’ve been successful.

“To us, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is critically important. We want people to come to work and be their true selves. That is what makes us brilliantly different. Not only do we talk the talk, we walk the walk.”

There is a clear Lasso-esque approach to work in Latini. The job is important, but doing the job in the right way and with the right people is imperative. His work has not just become an extension of his life, it has become his life.

Drawing to the conclusion of our call, Latini’s fervour is still tumbling out as if energised by discussing his family, work, and life.

With a final flourish, Latini says warmly: “You can see I truly am passionate about this company. To talk about it is easy because I live and thrive in it every day.”

This article was originally featured in Asset Servicing Times.