The winner of AsianInvestor's online poll last week ‘Who is Asia’s most influential woman (non-service provider) in the alternatives sector?' was Joanne Murphy of Triple A Partners. She formerly worked at Fortis and HSBC. We consulted the market’s ‘Queen Bee’ for her musings on today’s market.

Do you think women could/should be more influential in the Asian alternatives sector?
Women do play a very visible role in the Asian alternatives sector already, particularly in the fund-of-hedge-funds space – where Denise Hu and Kamni Bharwani at Rockhampton or Shirin Ismail and Maxine Goh at Fullerton spring to mind – and the service-intermediary sector, such as Marie-Anne Kong at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sharon Hartline at White & Case, Debra Ng at Albourne, Susan Gordon at Deacons and Mia Trinephi at Nomura. 

One area where there is definite room for more female pedal power, though, is in the single-strategy hedge-fund space. We have a few notable key portfolio managers and CIOs. There are Ophelia Tong (HT Capital), Vanessa Gibson (Wharton) and Lesley-Anne Murray and Jessica McCarroll (Liquid Capital). But that’s about it, unless we look at the Greater China space, which is most certainly better populated with women at the helm.

Hopefully this will change. 

What is really going on in the Asian alternatives markets right now? People are ostensibly optimistic, but is that authentic? Is it hard going out there?
It’s certainly tough going out there at the moment – it is incredibly difficult for many funds to raise money. In fact, I’ve actually never felt the market this internally congested before.

There’s palpable apprehension and a timidity that is leaving many unable to push the button and decide whether an investment is a way to crystallise their absolute investment sentiment, or simply a fast way to guarantee a loss (given recent performance) and make wobbles for themselves job-wise. 

There’s very little to elicit a sense of urgency too. We’ve got pretty lacklustre performance (flat to marginally positive), a long lead time for due diligence to be completed and a squash on fees coming from most angles, which are making for an awful environment.

Bottom line, it’s all rather frustrating to be honest. 

As ever, the biggies continue to receive allocations. They’re so much less likely to turn aggressive and show teeth. The divide between the big and the small continues to widen. Liquidity remains king. For example, shorter lock-up periods reign supreme. 

Not the most enjoyable of market environments, and a most sobering one if your day job involves positioning products to potential purchasers. Smiling has never been so tough and piggy banks so fiercely protected. 

Who do you think are the most influential men in the Asian alternatives business?
On the male side of things, I’ve been lucky enough to have been mentored by two of our industry’s leading men, namely Paul Smith, at Bank of Bermuda, HSBC and here at Triple A, and Peter Douglas [founder and principal at fund research house GFIA in Singapore].

They’re certainly both influential thinkers, fast to quip and have no reins when it comes to sharing a view or stating an opinion, which in a market where a spin is given to apply a gloss to most things, is refreshing. 

I have the utmost respect for Richard Johnston and believe his experiences and views are solid. I also think [Hong Kong Jockey Club treasurer] Jacob Tsang did much for Hong Kong’s institutional step towards investments into the “unknown”, although many are still fearful to tread there, it has to be said.

In Singapore, I actively seek out an opportunity to speak with David Walter, as I like his take on things and appreciate his ‘tell it like it is’ attitude. 

If you were counselling someone who wanted to work in Asian finance and make a prosperous living, do you think they should prioritise hedge funds or investment banks?
I consider myself lucky to have had time ‘growing up’ in the investment banking world. One certainly benefits from more than a grooming and an education, and an opportunity to make some life-long contacts. 

Certainly introducing yourself and saying that you work for ‘Big Bank PLC’ versus ‘Independent Boutique Shop’ can be a fabulous door lubricator. However, if you’re from influential stock and a go-getter by nature, the life inside a boutique group will certainly suit better -- though it’ll leave one with some edges. 

But with all the changes and advancements most hedge-fund groups are making to appear more institutional by look and feel, the difference between the two ‘camps’ will continue to blur. In the not too distant future it won’t really matter where one decides to lay one’s hat.

What do you think Asian alternatives sector will be like in the next 10 years? Will the people who influence it now continue to do so?
Dramatically different is how I see the face of our business looking in 10 years. We hear so much about ‘institutionalisation’ and how this will change our industry. Simply put, it will. 

Belt n’ braces are sought now by so many, and not just as a harness to protect one’s career, but as a potential parachute to assist with one’s next landing too.  Buying brands and actively seeking safety in numbers will absolutely continue. 

More positively, there will always be room for the mavericks in this world; those who do things differently or in a contrarian way. Meaning those who sniff out something new and identify something different, often where so many others fear to tread. It’s this spirit which makes our industry alternative.

Simply sticking with what one knows and following the crowd or a proven format, or indeed simply choosing to hug a benchmark and seeking to be top of one’s peer group goes by another ‘traditional’ name, doesn’t it?*

*By which she means ‘mutual fund’.