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Q&A: A&O capital markets co-heads talk innovative solutions and sharing leadership

Six months on from being elected co-heads of Allen & Overy’s (A&O) capital markets global team, David Benton and Simon Hill (pictured) talk about market confidence, current focuses and how Peerpoint is a big part of their future with Legal Business.

Previously, A&O has had a sole head for the capital markets team. How did the decision to split the role come about?

SH: In the run up to the election, the overall sense was that the growing size and depth, and the geographic reach of our capital markets offering demanded that the leadership of the group be a dual role.

DB: It is a very informal split, but will help as we don’t want to step back from our client-facing roles. It’s a 50:50 split between management and our practice work – we love our client work and would find it difficult to step away from it completely.

If geographical expansion was the main concern, would it not have been better to find a co-head in a jurisdiction outside of London?

DB: There was no rule that the co-heads had to be based in London; it could have been anywhere. But there is lots of day-to-day convenience to having us both based here.

SH: In the co-heads role it is critical that we trust and understand each other and have a shared goal. We see it as our role to create an environment in which the business will flourish, encouraging collaboration and entrepreneurial spirit.

Is there a particular focus at present?

SH: During David Krischer’s term [former head of global capital markets and current US managing partner], the economic environment was very difficult. He successfully led us through some pretty choppy waters and has left an incredible legacy. Now that the markets have picked up our focus is on profitable revenue generation.

The Moscow office has obviously seen a slowdown, is this likely to pick up any time soon?

SH: We’re keeping a close eye on the situation in Russia, at this stage it’s difficult to predict when things will pick up. The local capital markets have been severely impacted by the sanctions but we remain committed to the region through a broad finance practice.

How is investor confidence generally?

SH: Borrowers are becoming increasingly ambivalent as to whether to raise finance through bank debt or bond debt. There has also been a clear change in the participants that make up the capital markets. We’re seeing alternative finance providers play a bigger role, with an increase in funds and private equity in markets traditionally dominated by banks.

Will we see significant growth within any other business area?

DB: The Belfast offering and Peerpoint are really important for the firm. We will still grow in a traditional manner, but a lot of the new growth will be through initiatives like these, and we are placing a large focus on both at the moment. These services are very much a part of the firm and we don’t consider them as outsourced facilities. They are a big part of our future.

To what extent are clients benefitting from these initiatives?

SH: Our capital markets group uses [Peerpoint] a lot, with very positive feedback from both clients and partners. Large projects that are research-based, document heavy or require significant due diligence can be very effectively delivered using our team in Belfast. Our clients are very keen on these alternatives that can provide significant cost savings.