RFP: Diary of an institutional salesman, part 3

The life of an institutional salesman in Asia. This week, Will coaches Cindy on how to prepare a pitch.

Everyone knows there are eight golden rules of preparing a pitchbook presentation. Well, almost everyone. Cindy Tan, Integrity's Asian equity PM, has struggled to get her message across, and yours truly has stepped up to the plate. The product ambassador, whose job this should be, was retrenched last year amid all the chaos. It has been almost a year since I visited Singapore, so her e-mail last Friday was a fine opportunity.

I wouldn't do this for just anyone, but then not just anyone can wear a skirt and high heels quite like Cindy. On this, I and her conveniently recent ex-boyfriend agree. So, I settle down in the meeting room, latte in hand, diaries blocked for the afternoon, to impart my wisdom...

Rule 1: The better the performance, the closer to the front of the book it goes
Sadly, this meant that Cindy's performance page is right at the back, almost on the back cover in fact. After a period of posting strong numbers up to the end of 2007, it has gone a bit astray -- she was 5% behind in '08 and then missed the turn in '09. Kim, our regional CEO back in Hongkers, risks losing his hearing from all the screaming he's getting over the phone from the US. But you know CEOs -- they don't accept screaming so much as channel it. That's led Cindy to a new habit of chewing on pen caps. I give her a light shoulder massage as we work through the PPT. Poor girl is very tense indeed.

Rule 2: Never use the same org-chart twice
During the GFC, we had to make a few retrenchments and some of the analysts from Cindy's team bit the dust. For a few months there, it was eat or be eaten. It was a bloody Tarantino movie. I'd managed to convince the powers-that-be of my importance in retaining key clients, and thus deflected that spotlight onto the poor-performing equity team in Singapore.

It is only fair, therefore, that I help the lovely Miss Tan explain the headcount drop to the outside world. A simple redesigning of the team-chart into a country/sector matrix allows us to include each analyst several times over and therefore actually make the unit seem bigger. We cap this off with the oldest line in the book, that everyone on the team, even the most senior PM, has research responsibility - institutional clients love to think their portfolio manager spends more time meeting CEOs and CFOs than seeing other clients!

Rule 3: Find representative performance periods and highlight them
This is my specialty, and Cindy knows it. I trawled through the monthly results and found that our fund actually did very well for a couple of months in mid-08. (She tells me this was due to cash raised for some outflows - I compliment her on the remarkable prescience of her market timing and we move on.) We include these stats in the book under the heading 'Capital Preservation Mentality'.

Rule 4: Never simplify... ever
Nobody is going to pay us 1.5% per annum if we tell them what we do is really quite straightforward. But your typical fund manager is not really that bright, and so they need people like me to help mystify their process a bit. I find that a modicum of quant helps a great deal. 90% of people just love the consistency it implies and assume that there is some incredibly complex theory behind 'The Model'. Mostly, they like to pretend that they understand the theory and are therefore part of the club. There's nothing quite like a wannabe quant! Or quite as easy to sell to.

Rule 5: Admit your (small) mistakes
I always like to include a page - just one - on how the team has learned from its mistakes. Admitting the odd stock blunder makes them human. But no need to dwell on human failings, such as hitting 'Buy' instead of 'Sell' three times a year, or missing the two biggest rallies seen in the past 30 years. Cindy loves this idea, so I take this chance to invite her out for a drink afterwards. I've heard about this new bar on Clarke Quay and want to check it out. She plays hard to get, telling me that Bee-Stings is not her scene.

Rules 6: Find a snappy catchphrase; repeat as necessary
Ladies, gentlemen, members of the press: William T Fitzgerald is a genius. We need to encapsulate Cindy's process in a single phrase. Clearly nothing too simple, but something to inspire wonder and confidence. I quickly observe that her team covers stocks, sectors, countries, currencies and often has a thematic overlay. Despite her protestations that sector positioning is the main focus, I suggest we draw a pentagon with these elements at each corner and label it 'The Quintessence of Alpha'.  Both Latin and Greek in one ethereal phrase - I have truly earned my mojito this evening.

Rule 7: Know your audience
Actually, this one doesn't really matter. Just make sure you spell their name right on the cover.

Rule 8: Create an association with success
Since success has not been a key part of Cindy's repertoire recently, we need to implant something in prospects' minds. From my extensive reading and experience, I know many of the key players, and suggest we informally brand her as 'Asia's answer to Mark Mobius'. Not quite sure why she flipped out, but she rebelled against the association. Something about her abundance of hair making the analogy less than exact. Oh yes, and she said Mobius is a value-based stock picker. Who's been based in Asia for 25 years.

"That's the kind of passion I want to see from my fund managers!" I told her as she stormed out of the conference room. It's all good.

William T Fitzgerald is a fictional character, as are all the other individuals and companies in "RFP Diary". Any resemblance to the living or to real firms is purely coincidental. Will's adventures continue fortnightly.

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