During the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), Australian Unity fund manager Nikki Panagopoulos would embark on her biggest accomplishment as an investment professional – taking over management of Australian Unity’s diversified property fund (DPF), which she now describes as her ‘fourth child’.
Panagopoulos was the manager of both Australian Unity’s DPF and its retail property fund (RPF), which were both finalists at the 2019 Money Management Fund Manager of the Year awards in the direct and hybrid property category, which the RPF won.
“Australian Unity acquired the fund in the midst of the GFC and I relished the challenge of repositioning it to ensure investors received the true-to-label product income and growth they’d signed up for,” Panagopoulos said.
“We developed a strategy to divest assets, to achieve a more balanced geographical and sector spread, and reduced the fund’s gearing in a post-GFC environment.
“[Then] we re-built the fund with acquisitions and product enhancements whilst promoting the fund to a new genre of investors.
“Those decisions have been rewarded with a stable and consistent income profile and outperformance.”
With over 30 years of experience in the industry, she had her start with National Mutual, followed by stints at AXA and Deutsche Bank, before she found her long-term home at Australian Unity.
In August, she celebrated her 15-year anniversary at the company, although unofficially she had started a few months before that as a contractor in May.
“I came across to Australian Unity after working for a huge listed property fund worth $2 billion, I came on board to help the head of property, thinking ‘I’m not really sure who they are and how long I’ll be there’,” Panagopoulos said.
“In my mind I thought I’d help them out for a couple of years, but I’ve been here for 15, so that’s a testament to the group as a whole.
“It’s got a superb culture, the message they deliver is for the community and wellbeing, and it cascades through the business.”
Panagopoulos said her success had purely been a result of her trying to make a difference in people’s investments.
“I’ve always had that aptitude to try and help people through their financial wellbeing, and financial services was probably the best path to do that,” she said.
“Being able to add value to staff and help them grow, add value to my investors and the community by doing the work I do.”
Despite being a male-dominated industry, she believed the financial industry fostered women to excel and succeed, which should encourage woman thinking about joining the sector.
“If you’re true to label and want to add value then it’s the perfect industry as it provides a lot of support,” Panagopoulos said.
“Sometimes I reflect on what would I have done differently, but it will always be financial services and being able to do that as a woman is quite significant in my view.”
She made the choice to join the funds management side of the industry because she felt it was more tangible than financial planning.
“In financial planning you deal with one-on-ones providing guidance to your clients to direct the best way to create their wealth,” Panagopoulos said.
“Whereas in funds management you’re delivering and creating that contribution that creates the wealth, and setting the strategy to be able to deliver that successful outcome.”
After 30 years in the industry, she had witnessed numerous changes over the journey and believed it had become more customer driven than in the past.
“The industry has changed significantly, and it’s all coming from a support base mentality and understanding there needs to be an evolution as we grow and change. The diversity that’s coming into it has captured the change in workforce, there’s a lot of flexibility.”