Fund Finance Association Spotlight – Interview with the FFA’s Europe Chair Emma Russell
With the 6th Annual European Fund Finance Symposium just around the corner on June 28, we caught up with the FFA’s Chair of Europe Emma Russell for a chat about her involvement in the Association, it’s growth in Europe, and a glimpse ahead at the conference.
Can you explain a little bit about your background in fund finance and how you came to be involved in the FFA?
ER: I did my first fund finance deal around 2002 or 2003, which was a unit trust financing transaction – a type of real estate financing that was quite popular at the time. I did my first true sub line deal shortly after that for RBS. So I’ve been in fund finance for about 20 years – essentially ever since it first became an active industry in Europe.
Back then it wasn’t as popular space to be in as it is now. Fund Finance was seen as an add-on to leveraged finance (leveraged was seen as a sexier field to be in than fund finance) obviously it has grown exponentially over the years, and I’ve remained in the space throughout that time including the crash in 2008/2009. I attended the first couple of FFA conferences in New York , I’ve known Dee Dee Sklar, Jeff Johnston and Mike Mascia for over a decade.
I’ve been actively involved in FFA Europe since the inception really, when Rob Duggan and I used to informally co-chair it, for want of a better word. Along with Dee Dee and a small team we set up Women In Fund Finance (WFF) initiative and the board about six years ago.
I set up the European Fund Finance team at Haynes and Boone London in January of 2017 and we’ve grown the practice from zero then to a fairly substantial portfolio today. We predominantly act for lenders including the full gamut of alternative lenders, but we act for lenders and sponsors, and advice on the spectrum of what now are considered to be fund finance products: sublines, NAV, GP lending, pref equity, secondaries and more structured deals like CLOs and securitisation structures – anything you can think of from a fund finance perspective.
When were you appointed to the FFA board and what are your aims in that respect?
ER: I was appointed last year in June as Vice-Chair Europe on the global board and Chair of Europe. I think that for a long time – and I’m sure the FFA won’t mind me saying this – some firms and organisations and some European lenders felt that the FFA was a very US driven association, a very US driven initiative, and they felt that they wanted more representation from the people on the ground here in Europe. Rob Duggan and I had been saying for several years that in order for the FFA to continue to be successful and to grow they needed to bring in more new people from the industry outside the US. Asia was growing well with Danielle Roman of Mourant spearheading that effort, so it felt like the right time to create a governing structure in both Asia and Europe that was more representative of the people on the ground there.
Last summer the FFA invited people to apply for positions on its committees, which I did. They obviously wanted the chair of the executive committee in Europe to be also on the global board, so I was appointed to the global board, as was Danielle in Asia. Then we set up an executive committee which includes a number of the platinum sponsors of the FFA and also people that we recognise as key in the industry who should have a say regardless of their level of sponsorship, although we do ask that everybody on the committee sponsors at some level. Along with the executive committee of core people that are responsible for running the content of the conference in Europe, we’ve also set up an advisory committee that is made up of a wider group of people that we can reach out to; they give us their input and help us take the temperature of what we’re doing.
This structure has been in place for nearly a year. The key is to have representatives from the WFF, Next Gen and diversity initiative represented at the local meetings to help streamline and co-ordinate our process. Going forward we will hopefully run all the programs through this centralized body, but it is important to remember that nobody (with the exception of our two wonderful members of staff) are doing this as their full-time day job – everybody is doing it in their spare time so a streamlined process in place where we meet regularly every month is doubly necessary.
The agenda for the FFA conference in late June is still under wraps, but what can you share with us in terms of the kind of networking opportunities the delegates will have in London?
ER: I think our market here in Europe is exceptionally good at networking, so we’ve always been keen to include as much networking time in the conference as possible. We have introduced this year, for the first time, networking drinks in the West End on Monday June 27, the evening before the first day of the conference, which will be in, a Mayfair venue, so hopefully there will be people networking the night before.
On June 28, the day of the conference, there will be a full two and a half hours of networking, including lunch and two other breaks. Then we’ll be having drinks afterwards, which will be at the Landmark Hotel. The next day there will be the WFF brunch, which is a bit more limited in numbers but will be full of key networking opportunities. In terms of actual content the market here is in a really innovative place right now, there are a number of start-ups both in the alternative lender space and also new entrants coming into the market on the lender side.
We are also thinking about mixing it up in Europe next year. We feel like our market has grown significantly, and we are thinking about potentially moving the FFA conference to another location within or venue in London in the coming years. It may be a bit too late for next year, but it is definitely in the cards.
What key initiatives is the FFA Europe currently working on that you are involved in?
ER: The initiatives of the FFA are global for the most part, so there is nothing distinct, but what we do have is distinct committees and different ways in which they are operating, such as WFF which has been running for a number of years now. Next Gen is upping the stakes in terms of what they are trying to do; there are many younger people coming into the market now, so we feel that there is a definite need to engage them and provide a platform for them to network on. We’ve recently created a diversity committee in Europe as well to compliment the already strong diversity committee in the US. There are four people on that committee at the moment, so hopefully we’ll be folding that scheduling into everything else that we are doing throughout the year. Also coming for Europe is more of the FFAU (FFA University). It was run remotely last year here, but this year was have managed to do some in-person sessions as well.
How are the FFA’s advisory boards encouraging others from the industry to get involved?
ER: The FFA is always looking for people who want to get things done. If people are interested in that side of things, then the door is not shut. There is a place on the website that you can submit your details and get involved in our community.
The advisory boards aren’t set forever either. It’s a two-year commitment, and at the end there are people who, upon reflection, decide that they don’t actually have the time to commit – it is a big ask on that front after all. So there are always opportunities coming up to add people.
To find out more about the up and coming FFA conference in London visit the FFA website HERE.