Singapore-based UOB Asset Management (UOBAM) has successfully positioned itself as a leading Asian asset manager, after winning multiple awards during the Asia Asset Management Best of the Best Awards 2021.
The asset manager, a subsidiary of Singapore’s United Overseas Bank, was awarded Best Asean Equity (3 years), Best Asset Management House (Singapore), Best Digital Wealth Management (Thailand), Fintech Innovation in Asset Management (Malaysia) and Best Sukuk Manager (Brunei).
According to Thio Boon Kiat, chief executive officer of UOBAM, the key to success in a year filled with volatility and uncertainty – mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic – is to prioritise on safeguarding its clients’ investments and to assure them that it is operating business as usual.
In 2020, UOBAM’s flagship Southeast Asia-centric equity fund, the United ASEAN Discovery Fund, recorded an impressive return of 41.47%. The performance far exceeds its benchmark of a target return of 8% per annum.
The fund, which invests in small and medium-sized companies with a market capitalisation of under US$3 billion at the point of investment, invests mainly in a wide range of industries across Southeast Asia, with Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore accounting for the largest allocations.
Thio attributes the fund’s outperformance to its “intensive bottom-up research, active risk management and extensive footprint across the region”.
“The fund faced market headwinds during the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. During that period, we held onto many of our positions that we believed would withstand the shock from the pandemic. Hence, when the governments introduced unprecedented fiscal and monetary policies, the fund was able to benefit from the swift rebound that followed,” he explains.
Innovative and enterprising spirit
He says that the company stepped up on its digital engagements with clients to keep them up-to-date on the latest news and trending topics surrounding the pandemic, market changes and the investment opportunities that arise.
“It was also during such challenging times that we kept up with our innovative and enterprising spirit to go to market with our UOBAM Invest robo-adviser app,” Thio says.
Targeted at retail investors, the company launched the app in Singapore in July 2020, driven by a rise in demand for digital investment platforms. The launch came about two years after UOBAM launched the UOBAM Invest online portal, the first in Singapore for corporate investors.
In addition, UOBAM has also launched its digital investment platform in a new overseas market with the UOBAM Invest corporate platform in Malaysia in January 2020. Today, UOBAM’s digital investment platforms are deployed in three countries: Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. These digital platforms have been well received by retail and corporate investors across the region.
As at end 2020, the total assets under management of UOBAM’s digital platforms – across three countries – was more than S$1 billion (US$0.74 billion). Its assets in Malaysia and Thailand from its digital platforms stood at 1.06 billion ringgit (US$258 million) and 352 million baht (US$11.45 million) as at end-2020.
Despite the rise in demand for digital investment platforms, Thio says that the role of relationship managers remains important in the wealth management industry.
“Though digital solutions are now available, we continue to adopt a hybrid service model where our relationship managers will always be around to guide both corporate and individual investors when required,” he says.
Strengthening Islamic capabilities
On UOBAM Brunei being named as Best Sukuk Manager, Thio says that UOBAM has an “extensive history of managing Islamic bonds – commonly known as sukuk – and ethical investments”
“In Brunei, we started our first ethical investing account in 2003. While not strictly Shariah-compliant, there are major similarities between ethical investments and Shariah-compliant investments. The lessons we drew from managing ethical investments has helped us chart a growth path for our Islamic capabilities,” he says.
He attributes UOBAM’s success in Islamic financing largely to the company’s “seamless regional collaboration between various regional investment teams, and the ability to tap their local knowledge to uncover the best investment opportunities globally”.
“Our business development teams strive to identify and create solutions that provide meaningful impact for investors looking to align their investment with their objectives and their principals,” Thio concludes.