Asian asset managers should prepare now for a mid-career change, warns industry veteran

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Your early achievements in the Asian asset management sector no longer provide any guarantee of longer-term career success, says a 16-year industry veteran.

“Some of the jobs in traditional asset managers in Singapore are shrinking as more firms consolidate and reduce their portfolio management and research staff,” says Simon Ng, who heads up the asset management unit of China Construction Bank International (Singapore).

“Graduates who think asset management is still about making fast money are in for a shock,” says Ng, speaking to eFinancialCareers on the sidelines of the Singapore Asset Management Conference at Yale-NUS College.

“The industry doesn’t need people who think they can make a few good stock calls. We need people who can digest information and understand the broader context of portfolio construction,” he adds.

Singapore asset management is, for example, suffering from a “talent shortage of big data people”, says Ng. “And most firms here need to hire more quants, algo traders, and people with financial engineering or statistics backgrounds. Risk and compliance staff are also in demand.”

Ng believes many front-office asset management professionals will have to “reinvent themselves” in the near future.

“If you’ve been through, say, three years in research and three years in portfolio management, you might now need to gain new skills that will focus your career in a different and more in-demand area,” he says.

“Active management and delivering alpha are challenging at the moment, so you have to be flexible and opened minded about your career plans these days. Maybe you can move to a risk or compliance role, or into passive management, for example.”

Ng, who sits on the board of the CFA Institute in Singapore, is now hiring for his own team. “I want versatile candidates and I’m providing an environment where they can grow. I might have hired them for X job now, but I may well want them to change to a different role in two years, which will require them to adapt their skills.”

Ng joined CCB International (Singapore) in March last year after a long career with AXA in Singapore, Japan and the US (latterly as deputy chief investment officer) to set its Singapore asset management operations. He has so far taken on five staff in investment, operations, compliance and risk roles.

This year Ng is looking to recruit about three to four people, mainly investment and research professionals, who he will task with increasing the firm’s coverage across more Asian countries and asset classes.

Image credit: Crdjan, Getty

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