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Q and A with Six Park board director Michael Twaits

Michael Twaits joined the Six Park board at the end of April after a 20-year career with the investment banking arm of Toronto Dominion Bank, 17 years of which was spent working overseas between London and North America. 

Michael Twaits Six Park Director 1

Michael was responsible for running the investment bank's London operations and global debt capital markets business until 2014, when he moved to Toronto to take up the responsibility of running the global foreign exchange, commodities and funding operations for the investment bank. Michael returned to Australia in January last year and has since set up Meridium Capital, a private investment vehicle. Michael and his wife Ilana have two sons, aged 11 and 7, and live in Sydney. Michael spoke to Six Park head of communication Erika Jonsson about his love of numbers, his motivation for joining the Six Park board, and his hopes for robo-advice in the Australian wealth management landscape.

What sparked your interest in a career in finance?

I was always fascinated by the share market. My father used to buy the Business Review Weekly, and I started reading that when I was really young, then, when I was 13 my grandparents gave each of their grandchildren a small amount of money with a letter that included an example of the power of compounding interest. That was my first real catalyst into wanting to understand finance and how the markets worked.

I studied finance at university and then took up a graduate posting in Sydney with the Toronto Dominion Bank straight out of uni. It was a very, very small institution at the time - less than 10 people in the Sydney office - so it was a bit of a gamble to choose them over some of the larger institutions with bigger graduate intakes. But within two years they’d asked me to move to their London office because they needed my expertise there. I was helping advise some of the largest corporate entities in the US, Canada and Europe on their capital raising at quite a young age, which was one of the benefits of having chosen a smaller organisation.

In 2014 I had the opportunity to move to North America (between Toronto and New York) and took up responsibility for global commodities business, foreign exchange, the bank’s funding business and investing its excess capital. It was a wonderful experience - I had global mandates and being at head office it gave me experience with the inner workings of the retail bank.

What do you enjoy most about the financial industry?

Every single day is different. There are so many factors that can go into influencing prices across every different asset class - it fascinates me. I don’t like sitting still, so the dynamic nature of the financial markets suits my personality.

When did you first become interested in robo-advice and online investment management?

It would have been when I was in London, probably a year or so after the Global Financial Crisis, as part of the regulatory landscape that was beginning to conduct some pretty thorough inquiry into the European financial system and wealth advisers. That’s when I started to become aware of this thing being called “robo-advice”, which looked to be a natural digitisation of wealth management. At that stage, digitisation was a bit of a buzzword, and we’d begun to look to automate as many things as we could, and so it seemed natural to look to digitise that part of the wealth management process.

Toronto Dominion was developing a robo-advice platform during your time in Canada. What was behind their thinking?

They looked at these types of products as a way to retain their existing customer base and provide them with a product that makes sense as well as attracting new customers to the business. There’s a demand for these products, and financial institutions want to ensure they can attract and retain clients, so it makes sense that banks are keenly interested in either developing or partnering with robo services.

How does Australia’s emerging robo-advice industry compare with the landscape in North America?

Robo-advice has been very much welcomed in the US and Europe, and the Banking Royal Commission will be the catalyst for a more aggressive uptake here in Australia. While I’m surprised that none of the larger institutions have their own robo models at this point, I’m pleased that they are talking about the benefits of robo-advice, along with regulators and even political parties. Investors and savers in Australia require the product. I certainly don’t see any real differences between the banking environments here and in Europe or the US that wouldn’t allow this product to be embraced wholeheartedly.

How did you become involved in Six Park?

I’d only been back in Australia for six months when I met with Ted and Pat and was immediately taken by the Six Park story - I knew the product already and what it was, but what impressed me most was the way Pat and the team were methodically and strategically growing the business. The quality of the people and the backing of the intellectual minds behind Six Park really created a positive impression.

What have you enjoyed most about being back in Australia?

I’m very happy to be spending more time with my family - that was the primary reason for moving back to Australia, and I’ve probably spent more time with my kids in the past 18 months than I managed in the previous 10 years. I love being more involved in their day-to-day lives. My wife’s an architect and has been setting up her business here, which is very exciting, and I’ve also enjoyed reconnecting with my old friends and immediate family. I’m getting back into surfing and my golf handicap’s down too!

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