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Graham Turl was a lawyer before he joined BlackRock in 2007. The next year, Lehman Brothers collapsed and triggered the global financial crisis. BlackRock took over Barclays Global Investors in 2009 and leaped to become the biggest asset management company in the world, with AUM now of nearly US$5 trillion.
Graham is a practising solicitor in both UK and Hong Kong. He came to Hong Kong in 2002 to join an international law firm where he provided corporate, financial and taxation advisory services. "My undergraduate degree was in history. I liked writing and argument, I then studied law later. After practising for a period of time, spending most of my time drafting documents on transactions that had effectively been agreed, I wanted to get involved earlier in transactions and other issues. Therefore, I decided to get into the financial industry directly." He is now a Managing Director and the General Counsel of the Asia Pacific region.
"Investors are no longer content with individual products. They want a complete set of solutions."
Apart from actively managed mutual funds, there are an increasing number of choices in exchange traded funds (ETF). Graham stated that the development of the market is changing fast. Clients in recent years are not content with individual investment products but rather prefer a solution-oriented approach. Nowadays, investors want a combination of active and passive funds, or even a financial solution including alternative investments.
Graham, meanwhile, stresses that technology may bring disruptive influence. He points out that Hong Kong is a market that relies on intermediaries. Banks are still very strong distribution channels for investment products like funds, "but when you take a look at the millennials or the younger people, they don't want to have much interpersonal contacts. They just want to handle things on their smartphones while sitting on the sofa. How many people still go to a branch in person? Technology is the key to success."
With respect to the impact of robo-advisors on the asset management industry, he agrees that technology is developing rapidly but it cannot replace human interaction completely. Although technological enhancement is key to the development of the asset management industry, interpersonal communication cannot be totally avoided.
Tips from Graham
1. Gain experience
"Young graduates are expected to be given fantastic quality work but they don't appreciate certain skills and knowledge must be honed over time. And it is only after that they can get interesting tasks. Besides, attitude and work ethic are very important. Excelling in school is not the most important thing. Keeping the right attitude and working hard will help you go even further."
2. Get working experience
"I prefer university students to have more part-time or summer job experience. It does not have to be related to the financial industry. It could be working on a camp site or even a bar. Communicate more with other people. This is already the first step up the ladder in the financial services industry. What I want is not straight As but the capability of solving problems and the ability to think laterally."
3. Broaden global vision
"Don't tell me that you did nothing during your 2-month summer holiday. Even travelling is a way to broaden your global vision. The American presidential election and Brexit are all closely related to us because we are living in a globalized society. We must think globally and put things into that context. Colleagues from different countries do not think alike but they all have the same objective to achieve at work."
BA degree in history, University of Nottingham, UK
Post graduate legal qualifications, Guildford College of Law, UK
Prior to joining BlackRock, Graham Turl was the head of the Hong Kong investment management group at international law firm Linklaters. He is a member of a number of finance industry bodies in the Asia Pacific region, including the Investment Funds Association of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Financial Services Development Council and the Asset Management Group of the Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association.