Profile: Rebecca Bridger, State Street Unit Trust Management Ltd

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Rebecca Bridger

No imposter syndrome here

Rebecca Bridger, the youngest CEO of a fund board at global investment manager State Street Global Advisors, represents the changing face of what investment governance  in the UK is starting to represent. Over two virtual meetings, Ms. Bridger sat down with FBC to explore subjects ranging from product governance and board effectiveness to board culture, and yes, also what it feels like being a role model to other mid-career executives who may not have even considered a board role, yet.  

EVEN by today’s standards when most people are doing things a lot younger than their forebears, Rebecca Bridger is something of a trail-blazer. She isn’t entirely sure if she is the youngest executive director of a fund board at State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), or just one of the youngest, but she’s certainly the youngest CEO. In the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) jargon, Ms. Bridger is SMF1 of State Street Unit Trust Management Ltd (SSUTM), a position she has held since early 2021, having joined the board in 2019. This mum of three youngsters is a qualified solicitor-turned-fund product specialist and always knew that investment governance was going to play an important part in her professional life. 

Still largely working from her Surrey home, Ms. Bridger sat down with FBC over two virtual meetings to explore a range of topics from product governance, and board effectiveness to board culture, and yes, also what it feels like being a role model to other mid-career executives who may not have even considered a (future) board role.  

A stickler for board reporting

Social distancing and a year of virtual meetings would faze most newly minted board CEOs, but Ms. Bridger takes it in her stride. “I think I am quite lucky,” she says, pointing to the very strong synergies between her CEO role on the fund board and her day job. CEO role has added an additional dimension to her responsibilities, and gives her a perspective she may not have fully appreciated before joining the board, she comments. “For instance, I’m able to pre-empt and challenge some of the papers coming through (before they get to the board) because I can say, “Okay, with my director’s hat on, why don’t I like this? What questions would I ask?”, and make sure the reporting is that much more meaningful when it does get to the board.” Ms. Bridger quietly admits, “I am a stickler for board reporting.” 

And yet, despite the slight feeling of intimidation when she first joined the board, Ms. Bridger channeled the depth of the board’s experience (she especially points to the strong support she’s had from the vastly experienced independent non-executive director (iNED) chair Vicky Parry) into something very positive for herself. “From a cultural perspective, the dynamics of the of board allowed me to come in and … not have that imposter syndrome feeling. I felt like I earned my place there. They were welcoming,” she recalls, adding she benefitted greatly from the substantial governance support structure that came via a firmwide sponsorship programme. “It was a distinct programme which focused on advocacy as opposed to just mentoring where you are paired with a member on the executive management team who advocates for you,  getting your name out there … to get you front-and-centre and to open up the connections within the business at that senior level that one otherwise wouldn’t ordinarily have access,” she said. 

Don’t be shy

But lest anyone think that this was an easy ride or a fast track to the boardroom without the required hard graft, she has two bits of advice for her peers who may not have yet considered the merits of serving on fund boards. First, she says, get all the exposure and experience you can by joining committees, working groups and other entities within the organisation which emulate the governance structure or framework of a fund board or the legal entity board. “The experience on working groups and supporting committees was a big stepping stone for me,” she says. And the second bit of advice? “Do not be shy. You can’t be shy if you want to be on a board or on one of these committees. You have got to be able to challenge, to speak to your peers, and in most cases, people who are much more senior than you and not be afraid to challenge them either,” she says with a confidence that has clearly come from practice.  

It’s not a one and done affair

The conversation inevitably turns to the Assessment of Value (AoV) process and how it has played out at SSGA, which in essence runs a number of institutional funds (SSUTM has 7 UK domiciled funds with assets of £10 billion). “Value has been, and will always be, front and centre for our (institutional) investors,” and whilst acknowledging the additional work involved on account of the annual AoV exercise, she also points to the positive impact it has had with the wider SSGA organisation, and a growing appreciation it is “not a one and done affair”, as far as she is concerned. “It’s something that we should be discussing and conscious of throughout the year,” a point that will not be lost on her peers, especially on the back of the less than laudatory industry-wide AoV Review from the FCA in July.  

Acknowledging the very significant European presence that State Street has, with funds domiciled in both Ireland and Luxembourg, Ms. Bridger says “while the UK regulators have been out of the gates first by publishing a set of expectations, I think it is inevitable that Luxembourg and Ireland will follow.” And SSGA is getting prepared. Every new product is put through an investment and product governance lens that is possibly more challenging than in the past. “It’s not just at the fund board level, but right across the organisation where we have product, risk and investment committees inputting into the process. There are various layers of rigour (outside of the final Board approval) that all of our products have to go through,” says Ms. Bridger. 

As we near the end of our time with Ms. Bridger, she returns to a subject that is obviously very close to her heart, and one by happy coincidence is also something the regulators in the UK, and increasingly in the other major money centres are starting to pay a lot of attention to: fund board effectiveness. Ms. Bridger says her board has spent a fair amount of time thinking about this important issue. “I’m able to offer a fresh perspective, and am able to question, ‘”Why do we do things like this? Why have we done things like this? Isn’t it time to evolve or change?”” Indeed.