Meet the Manager: Sandy Kaul
Franklin Templeton’s Head of Digital Asset & Investor Advisory Services Sandy Kaul has a wealth of experience in the financial industry and a vision for the future in the digital asset space. She finds the trend toward democratizing new investment frontiers exciting. Learn more about Sandy in this Q&A.
Q: How did you come to work in the asset management industry?
A: I started out as a wire service reporter at Commodity News Service, which Knight-Ridder Financial News subsequently purchased. I wrote outlook columns on the commodity markets. After writing these articles for several months, I started telling my sources that I thought their interpretation of the markets was wrong and that they were not thinking through the implications of their arguments. They told me I was too opinionated to be a reporter and one of them got me an interview to become a commodity markets analyst. I got the job—and the rest is history.
Q: Where did you work prior to Franklin Templeton?
A: I started at Citi in 1985 as a futures research analyst covering the soft commodities markets with its predecessor firm, Shearson Lehman Brothers. Then I joined Commodities Corporation/Goldman Sachs Asset Management in 1995 as a Commodity Trading Advisor (CTA) and portfolio manager. After managing money for nearly six years, I shifted my attention to consulting and led the strategy practice within the financial services division of capital markets niche management consulting firm Scient.
I rejoined Citi in 2009, where I served as managing director and global head of business advisory services (BAS). I launched and built the company’s BAS practice, which is a market-leading provider of industry thought leadership spanning Citi’s markets and global wealth organizations. BAS addresses industry trends, including the integration of active and passive investing techniques, the emergence of beta strategies and solutions, the use of factor analysis, the rise of environmental, social and governance, the importance of people alpha, and the embrace of digital assets and tokenization.
Q: You joined Franklin Templeton last year; what attracted you to the firm?
A: Based on the industry research I’ve done over the past several years, I believe there’s only going to be a handful of large asset management firms that exist in the future. I believe Franklin Templeton is going to be one of them. I was attracted by Jenny’s leadership and vision for the firm. I was also excited by Franklin Templeton’s leadership position in the digital assets space, as well as in digital wealth tools and fintech. I don’t think it was widely recognized when I joined the firm a year ago, but that is changing very quickly!
Q: How do you catalyze change in an organization?
A: First you have to lay out a vision, and that vision has to be based on changes that people sense are happening around them. The vision has to make sense to people in terms of why the organization needs to change to remain competitive. The reasons can stem from technology, competitors doing something different, shifting demand or changing regulation, among other things, but there is usually something driving an organization’s need to change. And you can only catalyze change when people in an organization are given a vision and a reason why things need to change. Then you need consistent and vocal top-down communication, which can then be followed by bottom-up planning.
Q: How did you come to focus your career on being a futurist?
A: I actually got into it in a very haphazard way. I was working at a prime brokerage unit and was writing about how the hedge fund industry was undergoing such a massive period of change after the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis brought to light that there were a lot of hedge funds that did not put good controls into place, and that had assets in their portfolio that should not have been there. There were also a lot of concerns about the stability and long-term viability of the hedge fund industry. What came out of that is that we saw a huge institutionalization and professionalization of the hedge fund industry.
So, I began creating thought leadership for hedge funds on this new demand for operational due diligence, operational excellence and professional management, and how that was really going to help to emphasize a new stage in the development of hedge funds. I wrote about where the hedge fund industry was going—hedge funds had started to expand both into liquid alternatives and into private assets. I ended up writing not just about the hedge fund industry, but about the entire asset management industry. And as those trends came to light, I really started to see that there was not just the evolution that was happening in the industry, but there was a real revolution beginning to emerge in digital assets. As the years went on, my interest moved more and more into this new digital asset space.
Sandy with her sister, Lisa, and niece, Avery.
Q: What industry trends excite you the most?
A: I am excited about the alternative space. A lot of the best return potential has migrated from the public markets into the private markets, and that is an exciting trend in the world of finance right now. We have seen a contraction in the number of public companies in the United States and other developed countries. Fewer companies are going public, and many companies are going public much later in their development cycle—not to raise capital, but to monetize their employee and founder capital. So, I think there has been this ongoing issue of how to create portfolios for individuals to better reflect those alternative investments. That is what my original vision was all about—the tokenization potential of real assets and private funds so that individuals could start to have these exposures in their portfolios. And then when I started to understand the potential of smart contracts and the ability to bestow utilization rights, property rights, copyrights and usage rights in an asset, I became very excited by the idea that an investment portfolio can enrich people’s lives. I think that the utility of the investment portfolio is going to become a very important part of how we all live as individuals in the future.
Q: We have heard you are a fan of the grunge-rock group Pearl Jam. Tell us more about that, and how they are an example of new investment frontiers.
A: I am going to date myself here, but I was watching “MTV Unplugged” and saw them perform “Black” and was blown away by how good the performance was. I had missed the name of the band, and it was the first time I had ever gone on the internet to research the MTV schedule to figure out who it was because I thought they were so good. This was when researching via the internet was actually a lot of work, absent the search engines and speed we have today. At this point, I think I have been to nine or 10 Pearl Jam concerts.
As far as new investment frontiers, contracts that are part of new tokens can contain different kinds of rights. With Pearl Jam as an example,1if Pearl Jam issues a non-fungible token (NFT) for their new album, an investor can buy that NFT, and maybe get access to the album early. Or maybe the band plans to attach 5% of the royalties they are going to get for that album and give that pool of royalties to the holders of their NFTs. So, an investor can get income and special perks or rights, such as two free Pearl Jam concert tickets a year. That is a great asset as far as I am concerned. I would love that kind of asset.
Pearl Jam concert with friends at Hyde Park.
Q: What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy outside of work?
A: I am super competitive and love playing Scrabble with friends. When I need time to myself, I love to find a nice comfortable chair and knit—alas, badly. I love traveling and am lucky to have traveled across the world for work and for leisure. Some of my all-time favorite places are Bali, Tahiti and the Maldives. I am a foodie and love having access to the farms and vineyards on the North Fork in Long Island, where I have my summer house. I fell in love with the area, bought a house there during the pandemic, and have since loved the lifestyle. I also started a new adventure last fall. I moved to New Hope in Pennsylvania—a beautiful colonial town right on the Delaware River where George Washington ran the American Revolutionary War. It is a fun, funky little town that reminds me of Greenwich Village in New York.
First fly fishing catch.
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