US investment consultancy Cambridge Associates offers benefits over its rivals in the form of independent advice and expertise in alternative assets, says Chi-ho Song, the new head of the Singapore office.
Having joined Cambridge in 2006, Song succeeds Peter Roney, who has relocated to the company's office in Arlington, Virginia as co-director of research. Damien Tan and Mark Oshida have also joined in Singapore as consultants, bringing the headcount to 24, including 10 consultants and nine analysts.
Cambridge has some strong rivals in the institutional investment advisory arena in the region, but distinguishes itself in several ways, says Song. "We have some terrific competitors, but believe we have some very clear advantages as well," he says, citing Cambridge's independence of advice and deep research and knowledge across all asset classes.
Cambridge's alternatives expertise also sets it apart, Song says. "Many of the traditional consulting firms are independent, but lack the depth of experience in direct alternative assets investing," he says. "For years, they have simply placed clients interested in alternatives in funds of funds.
"While many have announced that they are building their direct investing capabilities, we have a significant lead, since we have been advising our clients on direct investments since the late 1970s."
Of course, rival firms -- the likes of Mercer and Watson Wyatt -- might well disagree with such comments. Something they might agree on, however, is that the alternative investment market is one in which institutional investors and asset managers in Asia need more experience, as some major players look to allocate more to this asset class.
As for Cambridge's own client base, its policy is not to discuss specific customers, says Song, but the firm has a large share of the endowment market in Asia, as it does in the US. It also counts family offices and government funds as customers.
Commenting on the choice of Singapore as an initial Asian base in 2001, Song says the company evaluated Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo, with Hong Kong and Singapore both proving "quite attractive". The ease of set-up in Singapore proved particularly appealing.
"Our office opening, like all of our global offices, was based on building a research platform, and we thought Singapore's location would provide good access to India, China, Australia and Tokyo," says Song. "Our team travels across Asia and is in Hong Kong several times a month."
With regard to further expansion in the region, Song says: "We believe Asia is a major growth area for the firm. That said, there are no immediate plans to open offices beyond our Singapore and Sydney offices for now."
Song, a managing director, joined Cambridge Associates in 2006 and works directly with clients on asset-allocation strategy, manager selection and investment-programme construction and evaluation. He has been working as an investment professional in Asia since 1995.
Song had previously been vice-president in charge of Singapore investments and operations at Whitney & Co, a US-based private equity fund. Before that, he was with the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, responsible for private equity fund investing and direct investments in private companies in Asia and the US.
Oshida joined Cambridge's Boston office in 2007 and transferred in September to Singapore, where he is a senior investment consultant advising foundations and endowments in Hong Kong and Singapore. He gives the firm a musical dimension, having performed around the world as a concert violinist. Oshida has also served on the outsourced chief investment officer team for a Boston-based university and developed hedge fund programmes for private clients.
Tan joined the Singapore office in July from the Ministry of Information in Singapore, where he was director of industry development and policy. Before that, he worked for the private equity arm of a private wealth organisation based in the Middle East and for Singapore's Ministry of Finance, where he helped oversee the management of the country's financial reserves.
Cambridge's Singapore office serves endowments, foundations, government entities, pension funds and family offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China and South Korea. Client portfolios range in size from $20 million to over $100 billion.
In addition to the consulting practice, the Singapore office specialises in researching Asia-focused traditional long-only strategies, hedge funds, private equity and real assets. Those capabilities support the company's global client base in assessing investment managers active in Asia.