The Inside Story of Asset Management in Malaysia

The Inside Story of Asset Management in Malaysia

If the victory of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia’s May election came as a surprise, the surge of positivity and optimism that has overwhelmed the country that followed was perhaps even more so. But it is undeniable; Malaysia is looking up.

According to a Grant Thornton International Business Report, business optimism in Malaysia rose by 24 percentage points in the second quarter of 2018, from 28 per cent to 54 per cent, the highest recorded amongst ASEAN countries.

“The outcome of the 14th General Election has contributed to this significant increase of confidence among Malaysian businesses and the results can been seen in various sectors,” said Datuk NK Jasani country managing Partner at Grant Thornton Malaysia. He added that “The government should now emphasise on business transparency and have a business friendly budget to continue this positive momentum.”

However, some of this gain – and much of the associated positivity - was wiped out in the build-up to the election, with foreign investors forming a mass exodus, selling $625 million of stocks in the weeks before Malaysians went to the polls, the country’s biggest stock outflow since August 2013.

Despite these losses, thanks to the pro-business stance of the government and oil prices rallying, wealth managers too noted the buoyant mood of the Malaysian markets and were quick to take advantage of the positivity. David Gaud, Asia chief investment officer of the $220 billion Pictet Wealth Management, began buying Malaysian stocks in the immediate aftermath and says that he’s bullish about Malaysia because of higher oil prices, a recovering currency and a quickly narrowing deficit.

This ultimately means there is a great opportunity for job seekers. In this volatile, exciting time there is a need for professionals in the asset management industry, and the current market requires a number of candidates to fill positions as fund managers, research analysts and fund accountants. However, there is a distinct candidate shortage in these specialisms, particularly senior fund managers who cover regional markets and fixed income fund managers. While it is by no means imperative, these specialist professionals should ideally also hold a CFA certification, as doing so will make them all the more attractive to employers.

Another area of talent shortage is within product development, where individuals who possess adequate product knowledge as well as regulatory requirements in fund management are in particular demand. Nevertheless, individuals who have a good exposure in different asset classes i.e. Equities, Fixed Income, and Structured Products will be a good entry point into product roles; alternatively, senior research analysts or investment managers who are considering a change of function would be suitable as they have the business knowledge that could be translated into development of new products to support the growth of the industry.

One area of the industry in which Malaysia perhaps needs no transfer of knowledge is in Islamic banking. According to Datuk Zainal Izlan Zainal Abidin, Managing Director, Securities Commission Malaysia, Malaysia is internationally recognised as the leader in Islamic finance and a key global marketplace for Islamic financial activities. As of the end of 2017 there were 55 fund management companies managing Islamic funds, with 20 fully-fledged Islamic fund management companies and 35 fund management companies offering Islamic windows, including global managers.

But whether Islamic or otherwise, the asset management industry in Malaysia is facing an interesting time. There is great optimism from many areas of society, and if firms can take this positivity and overcome budgetary concerns to hire and upskill the top candidates, as some wealth managers have already shown, there is a definite opportunity for steady growth.

And the same goes for candidates themselves. If they are willing to work hard, learn continuously and demonstrate a positive attitude; if they are able to do their research, read the market and be strong in their convictions; if they are bold enough to cut ties and sell potential losses when necessary; and if they have a strong passion for investments that will keep them going in the tough times, then they will be the first choice for a number of asset management firms in Malaysia. And they too, like the country itself, will find that things are most definitely looking up.