If Edward Bonham Carter is afflicted by any form of bitter sibling rivalry he hides it well. ‘My sister? Yeah, yeah – she’s a better actress than I’ll ever be, I can say that with certainty,’ he says of Helena, the Hollywood star best known for her role as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films.
‘I’m very proud of her,’ he adds. ‘And I’m proud of my mother, who is a working psychotherapist – she’s 83.’
The Bonham Carters are a family of high achievers. Edward’s great grandfather was Herbert Asquith, Liberal Prime Minister between 1908 and 1916. His grandmother, Violet Bonham Carter, was a governor of the BBC and Old Vic theatre.
Role: Edward now advises fund manager Jupiter on strategy
And, less well know in this country, his maternal grandfather, Eduardo Propper de Callejon, was a Spanish diplomat recognised for helping thousands of Jews escape Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War.
Edward, 57, hasn’t done too badly for himself either. Like his younger brother, Bonham Carter followed his father Raymond into the City, rising to become chief executive of respected fund manager Jupiter.
He relinquished the role in 2014, and is now vice-chairman of the group. He bicycles in to work four days a week, and spends Fridays walking his dog, Daisy, in Barnes, West London, where he lives with his wife Victoria and their three children.
What does the role of vice-chairman include? ‘You sound like my wife: what do you do? Washing the windows – that’s one of the main ones,’ Bonham Carter jokes, as he lounges back in his swivel chair, admiring the view from Jupiter’s tall building near Victoria station.
‘I’m very lucky. It’s a credit to Jupiter and to Maarten Slendebroek, the current CEO. It’s relatively unusual for the old CEO to hang around – hopefully not like a bad smell!’
Bonham Carter advises the business on strategy and, he adds with a grimace: ‘I partly have a responsibility for – oh, this is such a pretentious word – culture.’
He also helps Jupiter satisfy its clients, a role which includes passing on his pearls of wisdom to help them make investment choices. ‘I’m not a mini-Elon Musk, but I make a couple of observations.’
Some of his recent musings concern the rise of robots, jobs that humans can retain, and those likely to be lost to artificial intelligence (AI). On this subject, Bonham Carter has a stark warning for his colleagues in the City.
High achievers: Edward’s sister is Helena Bonham Carter who starred as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter films
‘It’s relatively easy to think of the jobs that might get removed and automated,’ he says. ‘It’s starting to happen in the middle-class area, professional jobs. What’s different from the previous industrial revolutions is that it’s the professional classes that are now being threatened.
‘Whereas before it was manual labour that could be repeated and mechanised, now quite a lot of the service jobs in theory could be replaced. So it’s not just truck drivers.’
Edward’s great grandfather was Herbert Asquith, Liberal Prime Minister between 1908 and 1916
Bonham Carter doesn’t hold back on his own trade, financial services: ‘I have a view that the City is over-staffed, the cost-base is too high and – this is going to endear me to my City peers – over the next ten or 20 years the financial sector is going to see a substantial restructuring. Some of it is due to AI and machine learning. A significant number of jobs [will be lost] over the ten, 20 or 30 years.’
Jobs growth, he says, will occur in areas such as health and care, where humans can outperform their shiny metal competitors.
But to feed this demand, he adds, the UK needs to think about shaking up its education system, which focuses on testing children’s ability to retain information, like robots.
He says: ‘I think the key things are analytical skills, communications skills – skills that robots are probably going to be behind humans on: empathy, dealing with other humans.’
Bonham Carter’s vice-chairmanship also sees him help the company deal with issues around corporate governance, including executive pay. Thanks in part to the £75 million bonus of Jeff Fairburn, the boss of FTSE 100 housebuilder Persimmon, the City is under growing pressure to tackle excessive pay.
Bonham Carter says fund managers are ‘spending much more time on this issue’. Is there a moral aspect to their scrutiny, or is it all about ensuring investors get value for money?
‘Moral is a big word,’ he says. ‘If you feel management are taking the Mickey by having a scheme that could pay out too much from meeting demand and targets, then that’s not right. I’m not saying that in a moral sense. It’s not right in the sense that it doesn’t make sense for an investor to support that. With one’s citizen’s hat on, has it undermined trust in the system, some of these large packages? Yeah.’
He adds: ‘It’s linked to this populist debate. One of the challenges for the system as a whole – capitalism and democracy – is: is it delivering for everyone? In any system that needs legitimacy, it’s got to deliver for everyone. Everyone’s got to feel that they’re benefiting in the widest sense. And if corporations and certain parts of society are believed to be doing much better than others, then that does undermine the system. And that means you can have reactions to it. It’s a reflection of frustration.’
Watch out: Many jobs could soon be done by robots – and we need to adapt our education system accordingly
Bonham Carter stops himself from ‘straying too far into politics’, and is coy when asked about his current political loyalties. He is a ‘traditional liberal, like his great-grandfather, and donated £15,000 to the Lib Dems between 2005 and 2013. But he won’t say how he voted in last year’s General Election.
Jeremy Corbyn is considered a bogeyman in the City, but Bonham Carter appears not overly concerned about some of the Labour Party’s policies: ‘I have some sympathies with the economic case for increased infrastructure spending.’
Bonham Carter, a ‘reluctant Remainer’, is also more laid back than many about what Brexit will mean for the UK economy. ‘Do I think this country has the ability to thrive outside Europe? Yeah, I do. Do I think it’s ideal? No, I don’t. But you have to get on with it.’
Horoscopes were invented to make economists’ forecasts look respectable!
However, he is also realistic, and knows his sector is at risk. ‘The issue for the City is: can it maintain its pre-eminent status as one of the major centres for finance globally? That’s the challenge. I personally think it can do. But there will be challenges to that. Can we lose that status? Yeah, we can lose it.’
Bonham Carter does have one major caveat though – and it’s another opinion that is likely to ruffle the feathers of his City friends: ‘Beware of both forecasts and experts. That’s now a trendy thing to say, but it’s an important thing to remember. Horoscopes were invented to make economists’ forecasts look respectable!’
He adds: ‘Economics is not a science. It’s a social science – in other words, it’s a study of people with all their rationalities and irrationalities bundled together in a messy little package.
‘Too many people want to know what’s going to happen in the future and they want to ask the experts. But they shouldn’t, because we don’t know.’