Looking for an Asset Management Job in Asia? Time to Measure Up

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At the 71st CFA Institute Annual Conference in Hong Kong, a panel of executive search and development experts gave their thoughtful, but frank, insights into what regional, and especially Chinese, employers are looking for today. The panel was composed of Sehr Ahmed, founder and CEO of Executive Edge Limited; Nicolas Manset, managing director in the asset and wealth management practice at Russell Reynolds Associates; and Serina Wong, global sector leader for wealth management at Korn Ferry International.

Based on their remarks, you should take note of these key words: convergence, acquisition, agility, flexibility and technology. Oh, and if you want to work in China, think of adding Mandarin to the list. Understand their importance to recruiters, and and how you can meet their requirements.

Convergence, in particular, will demand that leaders understand all asset classes and all of their customers’ needs. Acquisitions will lead to larger organizations, and their leaders will need to show competencies across the board, including different approaches to investing.

The key skill to develop is an understanding of technology and its applications — this was emphasized many times, that anyone targeting a senior role must be able to articulate not just a big picture view, but also a demonstrable understanding of how it can impact on the success of the business. Firms are looking for ways that technology can cut costs, increase efficiency, and change the way their business is conducted, allowing them to get closer to their clients and meet their needs more effectively.

None of the panel knew which new job roles would emerge, but there was agreement across the board on the skills that candidates would need to apply for them. Senior positions demand agility, energy, and the ability to use technology to create change. Middle managers must demonstrate specialization but — this is important — a failure to stay on top of that specialty will see that person replaced after a couple of years, when their value to the firm decreases.

The tech skill gap exists now, and it will be filled by finance professionals picking up new skills and also by technologists from other industries that move into finance.

Age, on its own, is not a problem when it comes to acquiring jobs in Asia. However, the average age of money managers in China is 30, compared to 40–42 in other parts of the globe. China’s young workforce is both tech savvy and ambitious, making for a very competitive market.

Is Mandarin a must-have skill at a Chinese firm? Probably yes for domestic work; a Chinese speaker will have a better social and cultural connection to the firm’s clients. If working for a Chinese organization elsewhere, then Mandarin may be less important. Having an understanding of the local market might be the most important skill.

What about the value of qualifications in Asian markets? The good news is that the CFA charter is highly regarded and well recognized. However, qualifications alone will not land a job — it needs to be backed up by a tangible demonstration of skills.

The panel also discussed the value of diversity as a core competency, when it means a diversity of experience. Good leaders within the finance industry will increasingly come from other sectors and a wide range of job roles. If a candidate has the skills that an employer is looking for, the environment where those skills were acquired will be less important.

Opportunities in Asia are huge, but you should think about taking the time to learn (and demonstrate) new tech skills, and if appropriate, Mandarin. Good luck!

Experience the 71st CFA Institute Annual Conference online through Conference Live. It’s an insider’s perspective with live broadcasts and recorded video archives of select sessions, exclusive speaker interviews, discussions of current topics, and updates on CFA Institute initiatives.


All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Photo by DAVID ILIFF / CC-BY-SA-3.0

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