Jean-René Giraud
Chief Executive Officer @ TrackInsight

“Building a team is the only way to amplify your ideas”

Jean-René Giraud, an entrepreneur at heart and Founding CEO of TrackInsight and Co-founder of Koris International, was always hungry for the opportunity to face new and exciting challenges. It was that drive that made him leave well established player like Barclays Capital and join the management consultancy start up Capco and later the EDHEC-Risk Institute.

During his time at EDHEC-Risk Institute Jean-René encountered ETFs and it was the pivotal moment which prompted his decision to set up Koris International and TrackInsight platform.

We talk to Jean-René about his entrepreneur journey, recent investment from NewAlpha Asset Management and Aviva France and the trends he thinks will define the industry in the coming years.

Jobs In ETFs: Please tell us about yourself, your first job, your experience and your first role in the ETF industry.

Jean-René: I followed a scientific course and graduated from one of the first engineering schools offering a specialisation in information technology. That was in the early nineties, on the French Riviera, near Nice.

I had the opportunity to launch my career in financial technology within a newly formed firm to help design and build a portfolio management software offering risk and performance attribution features. This sounds trivial nowadays but was not available to investment firms at that time. The firm grew to over 100 staff and was sold, at which time I decided it would be wise to gain some international exposure.

I joined Barclays Capital in London and spent two years in Canary Wharf overseeing large financial information technology initiatives, but very quickly understood that working for years in an organisation without being offered the opportunity to face new and exciting challenges would fall short of my expectations.

Management Consulting seemed to offer the thrill I was looking for. I therefore joined a very ambitious startup named Capco to take part in a wide range of projects ranging from strategy to operational restructuring. This experience gave me exposure to many different environments and allowed me to satisfy my appetite for change and all-consuming projects.

In the early 2000’s I was given the opportunity to collaborate with my first boss who had been invited to set up the EDHEC-Risk Institute. My role at EDHEC-Risk Institute was to focus on special projects and to build strong ties between the academic research team and the industry. This experience opened my eyes to what really drives me:  developing innovative initiatives and bringing together the energy and the forces that make things happen outside of natural boundaries.

It is during my time at EDHEC-Risk Institute that I encountered ETFs, as we produced substantial research on quantitative asset allocation and we very quickly identified ETFs as an ideal vehicle to implement our strategies.

JE: You then decided to set up your own business – Koris International – and in 2014 you launched the TrackInsight platform. Why did you decide to go the route of an entrepreneur and what was the pivotal moment?

JR: Koris International was launched while we were developing the EDHEC-Risk institute, to respond to repeated demand from institutional investors that enjoyed the research we produced. Transferring our ideas into technology and offering it to the market was the natural way forward. Also, because our concepts where not mainstream, they could only be developed in a boutique firm at that time.

Koris is now a fully-fledged firm, its reputation is well established, it remains profitable after more than a decade and enjoys a strong relationship with its clients and new developments as the market evolves.

TrackInsight came as a response to the need for our team to support investors in ETFs. There was no business opportunity in mind when we launched the platform. Very soon demand exceeded what we could deliver and required substantial investments. At that time, we understood the platform needed its own structure to support its development. This is when TrackInsight spun off from Koris and was established as a global independent data and analytics platform serving the ETF ecosystem.

JE: The news came out at the end of last year about NewAlpha Asset Management and Aviva France investing in the TrackInsight platform to help the company prepare for roll-out in the USA and Asia. Can you tell us a bit more about your plans?

JR: When we understood that TrackInsight had the potential to become an pivotal player in the ETF ecosystem, we also felt that we had no chance of making it happen without going global. Two years after the launch of the platform, we were enjoying reasonable success in Europe amongst institutional and professional investors and very quickly reached operational break-even but the investments required to build a global platform was clearly out of reach in our current setup.

We decided to go the private equity route and, in a couple of months, convinced New Alpha and Aviva to take part in the venture. As usual, the devil was in the detail and it took us just over six months to organise the legal aspects of the fund raising and to spin off the venture.

Our ambition is very clear: TrackInsight aims at being the platform that offers trusted data, analytics and information to the ETF ecosystem globally.

Our mission is primarily to serve the community of investors as we believe they deserve transparent, unbiased and accessible information. This goal is shared by most of the sell-side institutions that have understood that the growth of the industry can only be fuelled by increased transparency and better practices.

We foresee continuous strong growth in the ETF industry and want to stay at the forefront of those developments. This requires that we constantly adjust to regulatory and other industry changes and carefully listen to the needs of our community.

JE: What are some of the challenges that you face in your role and what do you enjoy the most?

JR: The human aspect is probably the most fascinating aspect of running a business. The most challenging but also the most rewarding.

Building a team is the only way to amplify your ideas. But running a team is not about assigning tasks, it is about empowering professionals that are likely to be more knowledgeable than you in their fields, making certain they spend their energy on what will make a difference to the firm and, more importantly, listening to what they can bring to your necessarily narrow vision of the complexities involved in every venture.

Organising an environment where individuals feel supported and are genuinely motivated to go the extra mile is not an easy task. The energy you bring to the table is very often eroded by time, by failure to succeed in everything you do and sometimes destroyed when disappointing results bring you back to the tough realities of the economic constraints.

But when you get things right, what the firm receives in return is beyond what anyone can imagine. Motivation and pleasure at work is probably the most incredible force that an entrepreneur should aim at fostering. And this is not about office space arrangement, nor is it about work intensity. Instead it is all about building strong, trusted and pleasant working relationships and making certain every team member puts its soul into the project.

With this on board, the entrepreneur can easily manage external stakeholders, adapt to unforeseen events and push the team beyond its usual limits.

JE: Was there a time throughout your career when you were unsure about where you were going? How did you combat the uncertainties?

JR: Entrepreneurs constantly face hurdles and uncertainties. It is probably what fuels their energy to embrace the daunting tasks that inevitably fall on their shoulders.

Marketing will ensure our venture is carefully aligned with the vision we had from the outset. But this is only story telling. The reality is that you can only rely on a very small number of certainties and pillars when you start a project and end up facing unforeseen situations every single day. What you end up with is the result of how you drove the project over time.

Success is a factor of luck, timeliness and preparation. Given that much can simply not be planned for, the best one can do is make certain the team is prepared to face adversity and react in the best possible way step after step. Instead of preparing your team to react to given situations, it is essential to make certain they have the infrastructure, the skills, the support and the motivation to react in the best possible way when they face new situations.

As entrepreneurs, we do not combat uncertainties, we live and breathe uncertainties and make the most of them. Being able to cast them off is probably what makes the difference between those who will fail and those who can possibly survive and succeed.

JE: What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

JR: I’m not sure I was actually given this advice but it is clearly what drives me and what I ask my team: aim high and never, never, never give up!

JE: Based on your experiences, what would you advise to someone looking to start their own ETF business? What does it take?

JR: I would probably summarise my advice to entrepreneurs in two essential points:

Be prepared and don’t wait too long to proceed from idea to the acid test of real customers. Comments and feedback from industry experts, prospects and the people surrounding you is very often, if not always, positive. Very few dare to tell you they think your idea is worthless. Comments are words, and words won’t feed you. Get someone to pay real money for it to start even assuming your idea is worthwhile.

Be prepared for a long journey that will cost you much more than what you planned and budgeted for. I mean money, energy, loss, tears. If you budget too much, you’ll end up wasting money on what might not be essential. Plan to deliver with little and be prepared to make certain you can invest much more than in your initial plans. Scarcity is probably the best friend of any startuper.

JE: Finally, let’s talk predictions. What trends do you think are going to define the industry in the next few years?

JR: I have a strong view that distribution of financial products of all forms will grow significantly in the form of exchange-traded instruments. Because securitisation makes things fungible and easy to transact, changes in technology will allow the industry to keep on growing exponentially.

New forms of transactions such as crypto-securities and de-centralised exchanges will emerge, as will new forms of cooperation between firms thanks to the capacity of technology to foster system interoperability. We should be ready for that in every corner of the financial industry.

Obviously, one should not underestimate the impact artificial intelligence will have on our business, even though I am pretty convinced we have no idea what form those changes will take … even if they are at our doorstep.

My final advice would be to those of us over 30. Just listen to the next generation, they are smart, educated and willing to make a better world. They’ll get there!