Have you seen those sharp-suited men driving around Jakarta in black Toyota Blazers? The ones who tell they have an inside track on a special deal. They are middlemen, often talking to other middlemen (somewhere down the line there is a principal with something that does need financing). Some of us have been there, sitting in that black car, juggling one's principals.

For the middleman often has both ends burning. That means finders' fees from the investors and whatever he can wangle from the investee, usually a success fee, but for those middlemen with chutzpah, some kind of free equity carry might be winkled out (they call it 'alignment of interests').

At the AsianInvestor conference about maximising opportunities in distressed and troubled assets, held last week in Hong Kong, investors spoke about how they source their deals and how they interact with these agents.

"It all takes a lot of hustle and persistence, and you do get important tip-offs and clues on deals that might go wrong and go into distress," says Cliff Huang of Knight Capital.

Relationships get built up over many years with sourcing agents, and arrangements over how they get remunerated are hammered out, perhaps a tranche on completion and one when an exit takes place (which can be subject to a hurdle return).

"We have a database of sourcing agents in each geographic market we cover," says Justin Ferrier, managing director of Hong Kong-based Myo Capital. "We meet frequently with them to see the deals before they hit Hong Kong and Singapore, that's where we have made out best returns."

Myo Capital has linked with Development Bank of Singapore in its new distressed and special situations fund, the launch of which was announced by AsianInvestor last week.

Myo Capital is an investor, but it is not just investors who talk to sourcing agents. Advisers do too.

"It's a lot of shoe leather. As an adviser we can't access the legal community as they have to abide by their decorum, or accounting firms, because they also might want to be getting into the advisory business," says Robert Schmitz, managing director and head of restructuring debt advisory at Rothschild. "In terms of the fees we pay, as an example, we paid the sourcing agent in a Taiwan deal a fee equalling 30% of our total advisory fee."

Schmitz went on to comment that it is not possible to cover a big country like Indonesia with just a five-person team, so you need people to bring deals in.

What about big-boy investors with virtually limitless resources?

HSBC's activities in this field are pure brokerage, so they have to match deals with investors on the other side.

"Clients tell us which opportunities they want us to source," says Premal Shah, director of HSBC Markets Asia. "We never use onshore sources except for our HSBC network."