The following document is an approximate, but not exact, transcript of the Operational Leaders podcast conversations between host Terrance J. O’Malley and HFM Journalist Jennifer Banzaca, Michael Paterakis and Thomas Duffell.
Please support the production of this podcast by downloading the HFM Journalist episode.
Welcome to the Operational Leaders podcast featuring leaders and innovators in the investment management industry, where we discuss the business of running the business with host and top industry executive Terrance J. O’Malley.
Terrance O’Malley 0:19
Welcome to the journalist series. This is the first episode where we’ll be speaking with some of the leading journalists who cover the investment management business. In this episode, we’re fortunate to have three of the top journalists from HFM Global, with each person covering the business from a different angle. They’ll also be moderating panels at the upcoming HFM BDC conference, an online event that will take place on June 24. My first guest today is Jennifer Banzaca. Jennifer welcome.
Jennifer Banzaca 0:47
Hey, Terry, how are you? Thanks for having me on.
Terrance O’Malley 0:49
I’m good. Thanks. Thanks for being on. So tell us by way of background, what’s your role with HFM and what areas do you cover?
Jennifer Banzaca 0:57
Currently, I am the Compliance Editor for HFM, writing across all of the brands, and I specifically focus on compliance, legal and regulatory issues for hedge fund managers from an investor angle. So that means looking at why investors should care about certain things like insider trading, or different compliance or regulatory issues that come up.
Terrance O’Malley 1:20
How did you get started in journalism? And how did you end up at HFM?
Jennifer Banzaca 1:23
Those are two very different questions. But I purposely went into journalism. I went to Penn State and studied, so writing was always going to be my area of focus, or at least I hoped it would. And in terms of how I ended up at HFM, through my very long and winding career, I came on as part of an acquisition of my former publication. And I’ve been here almost three years now.
Terrance O’Malley 1:49
So you’ve written a lot of stories. How long have you been doing this?
Jennifer Banzaca 1:52
Writing about hedge funds in particular, 16 years. And writing generally, it’s been 18 years,
Terrance O’Malley 2:00
how did you end up in the compliance field?
Jennifer Banzaca 2:03
Compliance was totally by accident. I had joined Alternative Investment News back in 2004, covering hedge funds generally for their trade publication, Alternative Investment News. So I had gotten a little bit of education in terms of the hedge fund industry itself. And then, you know, over the next couple years, I jumped around to other publications. But coming into compliance generally, there was a new publication coming out that was looking for a freelance reporter covering hedge fund compliance. And at the time, I was planning my wedding and didn’t want to take on a brand-new full-time job. So the freelancing gig seemed like the perfect opportunity. And so I took that job. It turned into a full-time thing and I stayed at that publication for nine years.
Terrance O’Malley 2:54
So talk to us about how you write a story. What’s the lifecycle? How long does it usually take? What’s your inspiration for stories?
Jennifer Banzaca 3:02
Well, inspiration comes from a lot of different places. Sometimes my good sources will just give me tips on trends and things that they’re seeing their clients or their firms focusing on. And that’ll give me a little bit of insight on things to ask other people in the industry about and see what’s going on. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a press release. And you know, just finding either a new angle for it or, you know, more interesting way to cover it so that we’re not writing the same press release story as everybody else. But even then, sometimes it’s just an SEC announcement. People move, you know, looking up and looking on LinkedIn and finding out somebody changed jobs. So you know, the ideas come from a lot of different places.
Jennifer Banzaca 3:44
In terms of how long it takes to actually write up an article. It really depends on whether it’s a simple news piece, or more in-depth analysis piece. News pieces can just be a few minutes, couple hours, and the analysis pieces can take anywhere from a couple days to a couple months depending on how complex the issue is and how easy it is to find experts to discuss a particular topic. So it runs the gamut.
Terrance O’Malley 4:12
So looking back, do you have a favorite story you wrote?
Jennifer Banzaca 4:14
I do and it’s not even hedge fund related. It is from my first newspaper job. And it was for a local community paper. And there are a few houses in the town, one or two towns that I covered that were suddenly developing holes in their backyards. And so everybody in town was panicking about sinkholes all over the place. And through working with the town engineer and a couple of other experts, we figured out that it was actually septic tanks that were collapsing, you know, septic tanks that people didn’t even know about, and were creating holes. And so I worked with the town, the engineer, and a couple of other experts just to tell people how to recognize the issue and who to call if there’s a problem. And it turned out to be a really well received article. I had calls from residents thanking me. I got a letter from the town administrator thanking me for alleviating people’s fears and changing the whole tone of people’s concerns in the area. So you know, it was the first time I had a reaction from everybody to something that I had written. And it just made me feel really good about, you know, my choice to go into journalism.
Terrance O’Malley 5:23
Thank you. That’s a great story. Hey, let me just pull us back to the alternative funds side again. You’ve dealt with a lot of people. You mentioned you have both news pieces and more in-depth analysis pieces. And I imagine you may have a different sort of tact that you take with people depending on the type of story. But do you have any advice for people on how to deal with the press on firm side of it when they’re approached by the press or when maybe they reaching out to the press?
Jennifer Banzaca 5:52
You know, one of the things for me is when people reach out to me, I really, really prefer that they at least understand somewhat of what I cover. I get a lot of calls from people that just have absolutely nothing to do with anything that I write about. And so, you know, I feel bad that I have to decline them on different pitches or different areas, or that I can’t help them with a certain request because it’s just not related to what I do. So in much the same way that you guys at the hedge funds don’t want me calling, you know, a quantitative manager about a long-short equity issue. I think it’s better when you’re going to press if you’re not calling a compliance reporter about a real estate issue (unless they’re dealing in compliance real estate). So, you know, I think that’s the biggest thing, just know who you’re reaching out to. And it makes it easier for me to help you if I know what you need, and I actually have a background in that. So I mean, that’s definitely the most important thing to me. That and getting my name right.
Terrance O’Malley 6:54
So I mentioned the outset, you’re going to be moderating a panel for the June 24 HFM BDC event. It’s going to be a virtual event. Can you talk a little bit about your experience in dealing with virtual events? What are some of the positives that come out of that?
Jennifer Banzaca 7:10
I think the positives that we’ve experienced so far have just been that people in areas where we would normally hold events, you know, like we have the Texas virtual summit. And, you know, generally people outside of that area couldn’t attend. What these virtual events do is they open it up to people outside of the specific areas to attend as well because, you know, maybe they couldn’t be there in person. So it’s given us a wider audience for our coverage and for the events and I think that’s been a very, very good thing.
Terrance O’Malley 7:40
If somebody wants to reach you, maybe they have a great lead or an idea for a story and it is right up your alley. What’s the best way they can reach you?
Jennifer Banzaca 7:49
I can be reached anyway. I have all my contact information is definitely up on LinkedIn. And I do respond to messages sent to me there. But in the event of somebody does want to email me directly. I can be reached at email for j.banzaca, B – A – N – Z – A – C – A. @pageantmedia.com.
Terrance O’Malley 8:11
Great. Thanks a lot. Thanks for joining us today.
Jennifer Banzaca 8:13
Yeah. Thanks for having me on, Tery. I really appreciate it.
Terrance O’Malley 8:19
My next guest is Mike Paterakis. Mike, can you describe your role with HFM?
Michael Paterakis 8:24
My role at HFM is Investment Editor. So practically, I’m overseeing the team that focuses on institutional investors and other types of investors, of course, and how they’re allocating to hedge funds.
Terrance O’Malley 8:38
Within that, is there a particular specialty that you have?
Michael Paterakis 8:41
I’m overseeing the entire investment team. With regards to my particular specialty if you prefer, before becoming the investment editor at HFM, I was the editor of one of the HFM publications, CTA intelligence. That focuses of course on CTAs, and quant and systematic managers. So if I have any specialization a bit more, that’s covering what systematic managers are doing, all the trend followers, the short-term traders, that kind of stuff.
Terrance O’Malley 9:14
So at HFM, you’ve got a bit of a transition going, is that right? More to a platform-type approach?
Michael Paterakis 9:21
Yes, that’s correct. We used to have a number of publications from CT Intelligence to HFM Week, HFM Compliance, HFM Technology, HFM InvestHedge. But we’re trying to bring all of them under the same umbrella – or actually, all these publications were under the HFM umbrella – but we’re trying to put them into a single website, because we realized that for most of our subscribers, our members, it’s much more convenient to be on the same platform rather than to have to visit like eight different websites. Even if terms of shaping the content for the appropriate audience, it might be a bit different. But still, subscribers are going to get the full wealth of the HFM stories.
Terrance O’Malley 10:05
So that’s the future of information.
Michael Paterakis 10:07
Yep. The idea is that we want to combine our data product with our stories and give something much more enhanced to subscribers.
Terrance O’Malley 10:17
Mike, how’d you get into the business?
Michael Paterakis 10:20
That’s a good question. The short version is that back in 2004, there was this tournament that most Americans might not be familiar with. But it’s a very big deal in Europe. It’s the European soccer championship or Europe. Greece, as a country, the national team of Greece, did one of the biggest upsets by winning the tournament. And back then there was a website looking for contributors who could write about the Greek national team. And I contributed a number of stories back then. So by the way, I was still a student in high school. So this way, I got to publish my first stories and I first became a paid journalist.
Michael Paterakis 11:03
After that, of course, I went to school. I came to school here in New York. I went to the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. And after I graduated from there – and I graduated, by the way, with a degree in business reporting – I was hired by Institutional Investor, the magazine, to cover institutional investors for one of its publications. I began by covering pension plans and 401k plans, defined contribution plans. And since then, I’ve mostly focused on how allocators are investing their assets.
Terrance O’Malley 11:42
So what’s a typical day like for you?
Michael Paterakis 11:44
Hmm, good question because with the pandemic, I wonder if there is a typical day anymore. My day starts with our daily editorial call. That means the entire US-based team at HFM, we all gather together and we discuss our stories to make sure we all know what story each person is working on in terms of can we collaborate or to just make sure that two different people don’t report on the same story. And after that, the normal part of the day starts, which is putting in phone calls to sources. And for me as an editor, going over stories filed by the reporters doing certain things, and getting back to them with questions, and making some phone calls myself to confirm some of the information in those stories. And at some later point closer to noon, the early afternoon, we start publishing those stories. And pretty much that’s it. And then at the end of the day, we get to have phone calls with sources that are not imminent in terms of stories, but they might be good for background of other stories or in general to hear what’s going on in the space so as to get ideas about future analysis pieces. And that’s pretty much how our typical day ends – around five, six, sometimes seven in the evening.
Terrance O’Malley 13:08
Mike, do you have a favorite story that you’ve written?
Michael Paterakis 13:10
When I was still at school, I reported for the Financial Times the story about a neo Nazi party, of all things. A political party from Greece, my home country, that managed for a number of years to upset the political establishment and even they won a seat in the European Parliament. Obviously, that was very upsetting. And I did that reporting. I did some digging and some serious investigative work trying to bring more details to a more general and international audience – that of the Financial Times. So I was happy about that reporting and these stories back then. Besides that, while writing for HFM I enjoyed in particular, a series of stories I did on artificial intelligence and how this is informing investing, in particular all the quants how they’re using machine learning strategies. And now they’re newer tools that are totally new to the space and how this is totally changing the hedge fund world and investing overall.
Terrance O’Malley 14:17
And when you have a great story like that, is that something that really motivates you?
Michael Paterakis 14:21
Oh, absolutely, absolutely even like a good sentence or a paragraph or two, they make you happy. You feel as if you produce something that it’s worthwhile. And that also, of course, goes back to the people that you’re talking to, the information you get from your sources. But getting to publish a good story is one of the most rewarding things out there.
Terrance O’Malley 14:46
So Mike, what advice would you give for people who are dealing with press,
Michael Paterakis 14:49
My advice would be they should be as transparent as possible, even if they cannot say something, even if they cannot disclose a certain thing. They should better say so instead of trying to come up with excuses or being antagonistic or anything. Because I think that much better informs the whole reporting process. So when someone is even in a tough spot, because let’s say performance was not as great, it’s much worse if a manager lies versus just saying that, you know, we cannot discuss them. It’s totally understandable.
Terrance O’Malley 15:26
Mike, I’m going to switch direction a little bit. I mentioned this at the beginning. You’re going to bring your expertise as a moderator to the HFM BDC event on June 24th. It’s a virtual event, and you’ve done a few virtual events. How does that change your role as a moderator being virtual versus in person?
Michael Paterakis 15:45
it makes it more awkward and easier at the same time. The awkward part is that you don’t have your audience. And when you are moderating a panel in front of a live audience, you can sense whether people are interested, if they want you to ask more questions on a specific topic, or if they would prefer you to move on. If you do that virtually you have no way to actually know how the audience feels about your questions. But at the same time, it makes it easier for you to speak in front of your computer, to have all your notes, to be more comfortable. Because otherwise, in front of a live audience, the challenge is also the presentation. It’s not easy to carry in a notebook and going through your notes and getting back and forth with your panelists. But overall, it’s a fine balance.
Terrance O’Malley 16:38
To wrap things up. If somebody has an interesting story, they want to reach you, what’s the best way to get ahold of you?
Michael Paterakis 16:44
The best way is via email – M dot my last name, Paterakis @ hfm.global. And of course also via LinkedIn. And if some people have to discuss very sensitive matters and they prefer secrecy, they can also personally find me on Signal, which is an application that allows for secure communication.
Terrance O’Malley 17:07
Thanks for coming by today, and we look forward to seeing you virtually on June 24. Thanks again.
Michael Paterakis 17:15
That’s great. It was pleasure.
Terrance O’Malley 17:21
Next up from the HFM team is Tom Duffell. Tom, thanks for joining us today.
Thomas Duffell 17:26
Thanks, Tery. I appreciate you having me on board.
Terrance O’Malley 17:28
So Tom, what’s your position at HFM? And what areas do you cover?
Thomas Duffell 17:31
Sure. So I am the new U.S. News Editor for HFM. Previously, I was working with HFM out in the Asia office leading the Hong Kong team and the editorial vision out there. I’m sort of in between moving from that position to getting myself to the US to take on the US News editorial.
Terrance O’Malley 17:32
So Mike talked in the earlier segment about some of the reorganization at HFM. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that has impacted your role?
Thomas Duffell 17:58
So over the past few years HFM has expanded both organically and with the acquisition of a number of complementary hedge fund publications. Right now we’re in the sort of the process of making everything a little bit more usable for all our readers and creating a single platform, HFM Global. And so as part of my role, I’ll be sort of covering both the online daily news as well as helping out the monthly print issue.
Terrance O’Malley 18:23
How did you get involved in journalism? And how did you end up covering the alternative space?
Thomas Duffell 18:29
That is quite a long story. So I’ll try and give the short one for how I got involved in journalism because it was a complete career change for me. I’d spent a few years just after graduation from university in sort of various sales and then advertising roles. I didn’t fall in love with those careers early on. So I took some time off to go back to college and get my journalism qualifications. Doing so, I sort of gravitated towards sports writing at the beginning. And as much as I love sports still, it didn’t take me long to realize that that probably wasn’t the area to focus my journalism career on. And it was really, you know, during those sort of university years and straight after – you know, I graduated from university in 2012 – and so throughout University we’d be living through the aftermath of the global financial crisis. And so I became much more acutely aware of the world of finance, and obviously, became much more of a user of financial media myself. And so it’s really there that I sort of developed an interest in the world of financial news. And so fast forward from the university days, and I started interviewing for a role covering private markets before I ended up making my way to HFM to cover hedge funds.
Terrance O’Malley 19:39
So looking back over the years you’ve been in journalism, is there a favorite story or one that sticks out for you?
Thomas Duffell 19:45
Ah, I mean, the old adage is that you’re only as good as your next story.
Terrance O’Malley 19:49
Is that like, you’re only as good as your next trade.
Thomas Duffell 19:51
Yeah, exactly. We have a similar approach. But if I was to pick one from HFM so far, then I would probably go back to my first big interview. So I think it was only a month after I joined. And so I hadn’t been covering hedge funds for very long. And I got the chance to sit down with the CEO and the CIO of Valley Partners, which is one of Hong Kong’s largest asset managers. And so for me, I’d say the reason why it’s a favorite, it’s the first time that I was able to truly get under the hood of a hedge fund manager, and really get them to articulate not just their sort of investment ideas and thesis and understand, you know, how they think about the world, but also sort of understand the culture of their business and how they operate. You know, they’ve got an interesting story in that they turned what started as a $5 million business into a $20 billion one. So they definitely had some interesting things to say. So if I had to pick one, it’s probably that.
Terrance O’Malley 20:43
How do you start a story? Is there a particular way that you get leads? And do you remember any as having been particularly unusual?
Thomas Duffell 20:50
Instead terms of getting stories, the best way really is just to be connected to the market that you’re covering. You know, there’s almost no lead to small really. You want to talk to us as many people as you can, engage with as many people as you can, understand what’s going on in your market, because often the leads aren’t going to jump out at you. And you don’t find too many interesting leads. It’s actually about the hard work of putting in, talking to as many people, and you know, you get a kernel of an idea. And then you can follow through with it, talk to more and more people, and then you realize that you’re on to something much, much bigger.
Thomas Duffell 21:04
And so, with that in mind, I guess a lead that kind of sticks out for me was not actually related to hedge funds. This was a prior role. So when I was covering private markets, I got a tip that one of the very, very big private equity guys lost a ton of money by messing up their FX on a deal – on a deal in Australia in fact. But the most interesting thing for me here was not so much, obviously, that the singular bad deal, but it led me to probe and investigate how private equity funds were doing or not doing FX hedging. And that led to a much more interesting sort of analysis of what’s going on in that space as opposed to just a singular lead or topic point. And you can’t do that without simply talking to people.
Terrance O’Malley 22:01
Tom, you’ve dealt with a lot of people in the hedge fund industry and on the alternative side of the business. Do you have any advice for them on best ways to deal with the media?
Thomas Duffell 22:10
Yeah, definitely, I will break this into two different parts. And that’s journalist outreach, and then anyone who’s trying to reach out to us. So obviously, it’s in my interest to say, “be open and communicative if we’re outreaching to you.” But I do think that both parties tend to walk away happier when you do have an open and honest dialogue. We want all stories to be accurate, actionable, and very importantly, contextualized. You know, without that we’re not giving the reader the full picture and the most accurate view of what’s going on in the markets. There are plenty of examples where teams left to spin out because the original fund is pivoting to a new direction. And all of a sudden, the reader has a much more interesting story.
Thomas Duffell 22:50
And when you’re trying to get in touch with us, the best way to engage is simply pick up the phone or drop us an email. You know, I don’t know a single journalist who thinks they’ve got too many sources.
Terrance O’Malley 23:00
Tom, switching gears a little bit. So you’re going to be a moderator at the upcoming BDC event. You’ll be moderating one of the panels. It’s a virtual event. What are some of the challenges that you found with the virtual events? And how do you respond to them?
Thomas Duffell 23:13
Yeah, I mean, the biggest hurdle here is sort of the absence of visual cues. We’re in a situation now where video conferencing has become one of the most common ways of communicating and it’s doing a great job. But you miss some of the sort of the nonverbal cues that sort of naturally occur when you’re face to face. And so in a virtual event context, this can mean dead air as a moderator. The best thing to do here is just be even more direct with your questioning to panelists, encourage greater audience participation through online chat channels on the platform and other such tools that you have available to make sure that people are engaged in a way that they would be if we were all in the same room.
Terrance O’Malley 23:54
Thanks, Tom. So we look forward to catching up with you on the 24th. If people want to reach out to you and maybe have an idea for a story or they just otherwise want to connect with you, what’s the best way to do that?
Thomas Duffell 24:05
Outside of email? I’d say increasingly WhatsApp. Definitely my time in Asia has shown me how important tools like WhatsApp and WeChat are for communicating. Obviously not at the moment, but usually journalists are out and about all the time. So not always able to sit, check emails or pick up calls. But it’s much easier to flick your phone and see that you’ve got a WhatsApp message that says, “Give me a call and five”.
Terrance O’Malley 24:28
Thomas Duffell 24:28
Yeah, LinkedIn. LinkedIn works well, too. You know that obviously is an excellent networking channel and a good way of communicating.
Terrance O’Malley 24:36
Tom, I really appreciate that. And I really appreciate you stopping by today. It was great to hear from you. It was great to hear from your colleagues at HFM as well. We wish all of you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Thanks.
Thomas Duffell 24:48
Thank you so much for having me. It was supposed to be on the show.