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WFH: Franklin Templeton

Stephen Tong, client portfolio manager for multi-asset solutions at Franklin Templeton in Hong Kong, answers a few questions about how he has been working from home.
isometric vector image on a blue background, a man sits in an armchair and looks at his smartphone, in a private setting, work from home

Most people in the financial industry are in self-imposed (or government-mandated) lockdown in effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. FSA checked in with Stephen Tong to see how he is coping.

Stephen Tong, client portfolio manager for multi-asset solutions, Franklin Templeton in Hong Kong

1. Can you give a walkthrough of your regular day?

I have been working mostly from work ever since Chinese New Year. It has been a long time. It is not easy at the beginning, but I try to keep up with the routine. What has worked for me is getting up on time. I wake up, read the news, exercise and dress up as if I am actually going to the office. Like in the office, I start by talking with my team about all investment-related matters. I try to ensure that at least I talk to team three times a day – in the morning, after lunch and before the day closes.

Things have been easier now. I started with just my laptop at the beginning and then started building out my workplace. Now I have two extra screens and a printer. So everything is set up that allows me to talk to my team and clients whenever needed.

2. How do you communicate with clients at the moment and do they request face-to-face meetings?

For both team and client meetings, I do video conferencing because I prefer an interaction where you see the facial expression of the other people in the call. In terms of talking to clients, we talk to them on a weekly basis. We also utilise podcasts that provide some commentary about the markets. These are usually published in the morning for clients to listen to and when they have questions, they can go to sales or the portfolio manager directly and we can have a chat about it.

Regarding face-to-face meetings, clients are quite understanding about not having face-to-face meetings, especially for those in Hong Kong.

Even for important business pitches and presentations to some of our prospective clients, we also do it via video conferencing.

3. Besides face-to-face meetings, what other tasks can you do in a sub-optimal way when working from home that you can do much better in the office?

I would say I miss the day-to-day interaction with the team. Even though we all catch up virtually, you don’t get that seamless or spontaneous interaction that may provide you with new ideas. That element is lost because you are not in front of them.

That being said, I would say that the working-from-home arrangement has also opened up new possibilities. Before, I would normally have to spend much of my time on the road simply because I need to do a lot of meetings face-to-face. Generally, clients in Asia, especially institutions, prefer to have face-to-face meetings. For Southeast Asia or in China, they prefer to see you every quarter.

But now, most of them are asking us to consider doing videoconferencing. Now, I can do a meeting with a Southeast Asian client and I can easily still arrange an investor seminar for Beijing.

4. During the extreme market volatility and uncertainty about the economic recovery, what have been some client concerns?

Clients are concerned about everything, especially with what we have seen in late February to late March. Both equities and sovereign bonds were dropping, so were credit. Even gold, which normally we would say is a safehaven type of asset, fell drastically over those periods.

It is more like a cash-is-king kind of environment. That has basically prompted investors to worry about their portfolios because there is nowhere to hide.

What we are trying to do is encourage clients to take a deep breath, think about risk first – how much risk they have in their portfolios and how much liquidity they actually have, because they may have even more liquidity than they think they need. That helps our clients to prevent them from selling their long-term assets because of short-term shock or changes.

What clients need to think about is what their long-term objective is and what they want to achieve with their assets.

Part of the Mark Allen Group.