Whenever Alexis Fosler flies into Hong Kong, she can be sure of one thing: the packed agenda that goes with her role as regional manager for Asia at Allfunds.
The Spain-based institution is currently the world’s largest B2B platform for the distribution of third-party mutual funds, providing clients with dealing, information management and research services. Those clients, now numbering about 650 around the globe, include insurance companies and private banks, and the platform gives them access to roughly 1,200 fund houses and 78,000 individual funds, with those totals growing on a daily basis.
“People use the analogy of a supermarket or storefront, but basically our business is the internationalisation of mutual funds,” Fosler says. “There is one platform on which all products are available, but with a bespoke approach for different clients depending on the model they select. To add depth, we also provide due diligence on funds and ongoing monitoring, plus portfolio and investment advisory. We believe there is so much choice out there that clients need help, and we ensure everything is fully transparent.”
She adds that, with everyone looking for “operational alpha” and to outsource where they can, there is a growing appreciation in Asia of the value a fund platform brings. For instance, it allows users to scale their internal business processes, does away with the onerous need for a contractual agreement with each fund house, and employs advances in automation and AI to improve efficiencies — and investment returns.
“Our remit in Asia is really to create value for shareholders and build the business through client acquisition and increased market share,” says Singapore-based Fosler. “Exponential growth is a nice problem to have. I like the challenge of managing that and I like having a multicultural team. My style is to understand what motivates people, what is the essence that drives all of us. I believe that is how to move from ‘I’ to ‘we’ and build a dynamic, innovative team through coaching, a consultative approach, and then delegation.”
During any visit to Hong Kong, such issues are necessarily foremost. However, for Fosler, every descent into Chek Lap Kok is not just about work. It also represents a true homecoming, a chance to reflect and remember which still brings a surge of emotion.
That’s because, she was born and brought up here, attending Kennedy Road Junior School in the mid-1970s and experiencing all the change and traditions of those times. There were Saturday sports on the cricket field in Central, a trip up the Pearl River on the second boat allowed after Chairman Mao died, and an almost endless procession of sights and excitements.
“In Hong Kong as a child, I remember feeling incredibly blessed and lucky and, even today, I find it so awe-inspiring,” she says.
Her father had started Swire Properties, overseeing numerous major developments, and her mother worked as a physiotherapist. Both were Cantonese speakers and, early on, Fosler became fascinated by Chinese as a language and the subject of communication generally, which later led her to learn six languages besides English.
Aged eight, she went off to boarding school in England before heading to the Swiss Alps at 15, where classes were complemented by mountain hikes and skiing. Exams proved no problem and, in due course, she won a place at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies to study Putonghua, as well as Cantonese and Japanese, a four-year degree which included time in Taiwan and Beijing.
“For me, Chinese was a doorway which gave the ability to enter into another universe,” she says. “I was fascinated by the characters, but it also comes back to my interest in connectivity, people and relationships.”
With China’s economy opening up, she joined Citi Private Bank in London in the early 1990s, learning the ropes there before working on the forex desk in Japan and on institutional equity sales in Hong Kong, while moving between banks. It was a fast-paced lifestyle and, in 2000, Fosler felt a metaphorical tap on the shoulder telling her it was time to take a break.
So, she retired, with no particular plan other than to travel the world and see what happened, which ultimately meant living for six years on a small Caribbean island.
“I went there on vacation and thought why not stay, but soon felt completely useless. I had all these skills they didn’t need, but couldn’t build a boat or fix an engine.”
To rectify that, she found work in boatyards and for charter companies, also earning her captain’s licence for a 200-tonne boat. And when she did decide to return to the finance industry, things fell into place.
“I didn’t doubt my ability to come back,” she says, adding that such “moments of zero”, which require a fresh start, hold no fear. “In the last decade or more, I have essentially been brought in by private equity companies and financial institutions to build their franchises in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Doing that, she started the Citi prime brokerage business for Asean, going “from zero to something”. It was then on to Citadel to sell a hedge fund administration business to Northern Trust and integrate it. And once everything had stabilised, she switched to The Warranty Group before joining Allfunds in 2018.
“The domain may be different, but the tools, people and architectural model are essentially the same,” Fosler says. “In Europe, we are taught to be ‘watchmakers’ who look at the details, but institutions have employed me to come in and ‘not know’. Instead, they want me to ask questions, think outside the box, recognise patterns, and build on them.”
Each year, Fosler tries to take off one month to trek in remote destinations like Bhutan, western Nepal and Mongolia. She has just completed a master’s in counselling, invests in start-up tech companies, and has a sustainable fashion business.
“The world is too big a place to be confined to just one facet,” she says.