Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

For Vivian Tang, head of distribution for North Asia with First State Investments, a tailored approach is essential to providing excellent service

Hong Kong’s status as a global financial centre ultimately depends on dedicated professionals with the expertise and all-round skills to ensure the city continues to capitalise on its advantages and maintain a winning edge.

In many respects, Vivian Tang exemplifies just that type. As head of distribution for North Asia with First State Investments, she plays a pivotal role in helping large-scale clients find the right funds and instruments. That means day-to-day dealings with sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies, endowments, pension funds, private banks, and other institutional investors.

But, along with that, she also has close involvement with broader aspects of business development, driving strategy and key initiatives in mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea.

“My team on the distribution side is the bridge between our clients and fund managers,” Tang says. “The job is to understand investment needs and, as something very central to our business philosophy, we see ourselves as stewards of the clients’ assets, looking to develop trust and partner-like relationships.”

The prime purpose of such interaction is to establish clear guidelines on the structure and management of each portfolio. Discussions lead to a basic agreement on the main objectives and time frame plus risk parameters and any restrictions.

As a result, the directive passed on to the portfolio managers might require them to focus on equities, fixed-income or multi-asset categories, or a combination of such funds. And, all through, Tang’s team will make a point of highlighting the firm’s tried and tested approach to investment - in essence its style and beliefs - to avoid the possibility of any mismatch or misunderstandings.

“We talk about an active engagement process; every mandate takes time,” she says. “We don’t provide guarantees [on portfolio performance] in the asset management world, but you must be aligned with clients to deliver growth over the long term, otherwise the partnership is not sustainable.”

As a Tang from one of the long-established New Territories clans, She grew up in Kam Tin and attended school in Yuen Long before entering the University of Hong Kong to take a three-year bachelor of finance degree.

That had long seemed the logical choice. Tang’s father was a stockbroker and, early on, introduced her to the fundamentals during informal visits to his office in the stock department of a local bank. From there, things followed on naturally.

“The world of finance always seemed interesting and, at university, I loved the courses,” she says.

Graduating in 1999, she opted for HSBC Asset Management over an investment bank and became one of an exclusive group of four global graduate trainees in what was set to be a fast-expanding sector.

“Back then, asset management was relatively niche, but I knew the MPF scheme was coming in 2000,” she says. “I could see it would affect the whole working population in Hong Kong, leading to very significant growth in total assets under management. It is a decision I have never regretted.”

Starting as a London-based analyst in the European equities team, she soon found her feet and was promoted to manage the portfolio construction team. Returning to Hong Kong, she became head of the management team for Asia ex-Japan equities in 2003 and kept on climbing.

“I’d been given a lot of opportunities to try different things, but after six years with one employer, it was time to try something else,” she says.

Accordingly, she switched to Citigroup Private Banking, focusing on mutual funds and other discretionary products. Then, with an eye to broader international exposure, she joined Invesco as a senior investment specialist handling Asia ex-Japan equities. That brought the chance to do roadshows in Europe and, in effect, serve as an ambassador for the fast-emerging China capital markets.

“The China market was not as established as it is today, so I was very excited to be part of introducing that asset class to the wider world.”

To build on that experience, she moved to Credit Suisse Asset Management as director of distribution in 2007. The role included strategic planning, client relationships and third-party distribution in Greater China, and it coincided with earth-shaking events elsewhere.

“The global financial crisis was a challenging time for everyone in the industry,” Tang says, “But it showed me it is super important to do the right thing, make your own decisions, and be in a company that is responsible to its clients.”

Such factors attracted her to First State in 2013, along with the firm’s culture of being upfront with investors, its belief in active portfolio management and emphasis on the interpersonal aspect.

“There is no hard rule with clients, but you need to understand different perspectives and considerations,” she says. “Meeting requirements is often about asking the right questions and having ‘good ears’. Proposing customised solutions is a very dynamic process.”

With the asset management industry still seeing strong growth in Asia and new opportunities opening up in China, Tang is keen to keep playing her part.

“I’m a pretty optimistic person, and there are many things waiting for me to explore,” she says. “I enjoy my work and want to continue to contribute.”

With two children aged under 10, weekends are naturally devoted to family matters, but Tang also finds time to offer advice to young people looking to break into the sector.

“It is really important to be true to yourself, maximise your strengths, and manage your career by setting long-term goals and aspirations,” she says. “If you face problems, don’t complain; be proactive and find a solution. More generally, look around for inspiring stories of individual achievement.”