An Interview with Ismitz Matthew De Alwis


Kenanga Investors Berhad’s Executive Director and CEO speaks with FST Media about how KIB will harness the potential of mobile platforms to engage with a growing millennial customer base.

FST Media: What key insights and views will you bring to your new role at Kenanga Investors Berhad?

De Alwis: While Kenanga Investors Berhad has always had a clear strategy, I would like to focus on building capabilities and competence within the organisation. I also want to leverage the capabilities built in each part of our business and bring them together to drive growth. We will do this by focusing on products, customers and operations. We have focused on building capabilities and the time has come now to fully leverage these capabilities.

Since joining Kenanga Investors in June, 2013, I have been involved with every aspect of the business and I think our current team has accomplished a lot. There is of course room for further development and in particular what I would like to do with our distribution network and our organisation is to continue to renew our approach to anticipate market movement and demands. That is the core focus of Kenanga Investors going forward, and I think there may be a lot of things we could continue to build into our work that will help push our thinking and our effectiveness.

I will also continue to hold strongly to my business philosophy of ‘Partnership for Growth’ as I believe in enhancing the productivity and quality of our advisers and business partners, while seeking to ensure the “longevity” of the tenure of distribution partnership for our clients; a cradle-to-grave type of relationship.

FST Media: What are your key priorities in the next 12 to 18 months?

De Alwis: I am a big believer in systems and processes. They enable continuity, provide a framework for audit and efficiency as well as ensure business sustainability. At Kenanga Investors, we will continue to refine and enhance our systems and processes over the next 12 to 18 months to improve customer experience, which includes providing convenience with consistent service standards to our clients.

Performance development through training and education, technology and system will remain one of the core subjects for our advisers and also our clients beyond just investment products. As a company, we encourage our advisers to expand their business model to encompass a larger offering and eventually to a financial planning and advisory model. In this regard, we strive to provide all available suite of investment products to our advisers and beyond that we also facilitate strategic collaboration with other providers for other product offerings beyond investments.

Undeniably, investment returns will be a key priority as well. Our flagship fund, Kenanga Growth Fund, was ranked Best Performing Equity Fund over the past 5 years and 10 years by Lipper Fund Awards 2015 (Malaysia). We will strive to deliver consistent above par performance in the coming months.

FST Media: What technology or innovation will be a game-changer in the fund management industry in the year ahead? 

De Alwis: Firstly, how we deepen on the relationships we have with our existing clients will be a key game-changer. We need to give customers what they need before they realise they need it, and always challenge ourselves to disrupt your own business by continuously improving what you do to stay ahead of the competition. Secondly, how we deliver the best client experience. To do that, we are investing in the latest technology to enhance manager and client interaction and to ensure ‘best in class’ service from an operations point of view. The third is the importance of acting globally, leveraging synergies across the bank and delivering everything that Kenanga has to offer, which being part of the Kenanga Investment Bank Berhad allows us to do.

FST Media: How will KIB harness the potential of mobile platforms to engage with a growing millennial customer base? 

De Alwis: The technological evolution of the internet will change the nature, scope and competitive landscape of the financial services industry. This new reality will have each financial institution essentially operating in its own market and targeting its audience with narrower services, catering to the demands of a unique mix of customer segments.

Tomorrow’s investor will expect 24/7 access, full transparency and the ability to self-report, review and re-balance investments via a range of channels, including extensive use of mobile technologies. I am not suggesting that all investors will use this functionality and am also not advocating that a standard retail investor re-balances their portfolio on an overly regular basis. However, we do foresee that to be successful, Kenanga Investors will need to be equipped to service more demanding clients, while continuing to satisfy the expectations of conventional clients, who remain satisfied with minimum interaction. Basically, growing investors want more technology and more transparency. However, those who adopt the tools, technology and techniques of the robo-advisors – and then build on top of it with financial planning services and technology-augmented relationships, will find themselves best positioned to continue to thrive in a competitive environment.

FST Media: What’s next for the Kenanga Growth Fund and how can you build on the successes of your investing strategy?

De Alwis: The strengths of our winning Kenanga Growth Fund lie with the disciplined approach in conducting research and bottom-up stock picking. It is underlined by our value-based investment philosophy and supported by a team of dynamic fund managers and analysts who constantly identify market trends and stock ideas. Stock picking remained the biggest contributor to the Fund’s superior performance last year, with sectors like exporters and manufacturers, ICT (information, communication and technology) and small caps among the industries that contributed to the performance.

We think pockets of value have emerged post the sell-down at the end of 2014, although selective stocks have had a good rebound since the beginning of 2015. We will continue to adopt bottom-up stock-picking favouring the growth-oriented mid-to-small-cap stocks. Our stock selection favours the sectors that will benefit from the main economic drivers particularly exporters, manufacturers, ICT and construction or infrastructure. With respect to our portfolio strategy, we will continue to adopt a bar-bell strategy of beta and defensive stocks while adding positions on any market weakness.

FST Media: What will fund management look like in the future and what are the key challenges that you will face over the next five years?

De Alwis: We need to be able to build the growing pathway together with our clients and business partners from diverse backgrounds. Therefore, Kenanga Investors will focus on building the architecture to meet the business needs of tomorrow and provide the right level of control to meet increasingly stringent compliance. Platforms will be completely redesigned in phases with the flexibility to support a much more diverse client base, delivering control and client experience. We believe that all this will be paramount to long-term success, enabling those who achieve it to deliver the personalised and tailored customer experience clients increasingly expect as well as to maintain long-term relationships. A holistic approach is the way to go.

Future consumers would likely be even more demanding – characterised by the desire for immediacy and expecting a more personalised service from their service providers. I believe the pendulum is swinging from manufacturing to distribution and that client proximity and understanding would increasingly be important differentiators. Power would continue to shift towards those who control the client relationship.

FST Media: What is your definition of success?

De Alwis: Success is the ability to create an environment in which results can happen effectively and with meaning. If you focus more on creating the right atmosphere and building a culture that promotes the meaning and value of what people do, rather than focus solely on the results you are trying to accomplish, you actually get better results.

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?

De Alwis: We encourage a culture of innovation by embracing diversity. In my team, I encourage team members to identify each individual’s strengths and embrace new groups of collaboration with a tailored mix of talents. Collaborating with employees with different experience levels can provide the right cohesive dynamics for innovation. Younger team members may provide energy and optimism while veterans may provide insight from past experience. Creative thinking and team collaboration are encouraged and rewarded.

I believe that innovation is not just about creating new ideas; it is about finishing things we start, and about having the patience and commitment to help innovations go to scale, not just seeding the development of new projects or products. As well as listening to your customers, it is important that you surround yourself with a team that approach the business differently from yourself and listen to them; this breeds diversity in your business approach. Everyone has different skills and expertise to bring to the table and it is that mix the breeds constant innovation and creativity.

We understand that happy employees equal happy customers. We have an approach of ‘front line first’ and being a great place to work is hugely important. Richard Branson once said: “Train your team well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they do not have to.”

FST Media: With respect to career development, what is the most inspiring career advice you have ever received?

De Alwis: With respect to career advice, I have 3 key messages to all aspirants. Firstly, be kind to yourself – there is no perfect way “to be”. Secondly,  everybody already has presence and makes an impact in certain situations. It is just about flexibility and exemplifying the best of who you already are. Thirdly, you do not become a star doing your job. You become a star making things happen. These are skills for life, not just work. Although personal growth requires practice and hard work, I promise you, it is worth it!

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

De Alwis: It has only been in the past several years that I have realised how much leadership is about an individual person—their character, personality, and conduct. Leadership is not management. Leadership is about being in relationship with people. You are not a leader unless people choose to follow you. Integrity is key. You also need to be very self-aware, and demonstrate an awareness or understanding of the “connections,” the many relationships between people and projects.

I truly do value people and I am sincerely interested in who they are and what they do. I hope that leaves people with an overall positive experience when working with me. In addition to creating the right atmosphere, when you demonstrate proficiency and expertise it puts people at ease, which then allows for more creativity.

I think my colleagues would say the same: I value their ideas and opinions. I am collaborative, open and honest, and I want them to be successful.