Ravi Menon of HSBC Asset Management (India) speaks about the fund house’s aim to beat the benchmark indices.
From being the 10th largest mutual fund house at one point (with assets under management as high as around Rs. 20,000 crore in October 2007), the fund house has fallen from grace. As of June 2016, its assets were around Rs. 7,839 crore and it stands 20th in the pecking order as per June 2016 numbers. It has been almost 9 months since Ravi Menon took over the chief executive officer of HSBC Asset Management (India) Pvt. Ltd. But Menon is not perturbed by competition. He spoke to Mint and said the fund house aims to beat the benchmark indices. Edited excerpts:
After taking over, what are your plans?
Having a robust set of global and corporate banking customers, HSBC India AMC should be the preferred asset manager for this particular group. We also see ourselves as the provider of cross-border products to India. Some other fund houses also offer foreign schemes but definitely it’s a less-crowded space. The HSBC asset management group worldwide, today manufactures products in Hong Kong for various Asian countries. We make products in London for Europe and West Asia. We also have a lot of non-resident Indian customers across the world who bank with HSBC. India being a favoured market today, we have the capabilities to channelise their savings and investments into Indian equity markets. Of course, if we have chosen to be—and manufactured—in India, then I must be in a position of strength in India. I can’t be an outsider and say that I am not keen on participating in India.
Your performance has been abysmal for quite some time. Hardly anybody talks about HSBC AMC when it comes to performance.
Since our launch in 2004 till 2009, we did very well. During and post global financial crisis, there was volatility in our performances….There’s no fund that has consistently been at the bottom or the top one or two quartiles. But if I am beating the benchmark, then I am being honest to my stakeholders. Many commentators and agencies rank all mutual fund schemes and often a few basis points (bps) worth difference can result in a large drop in rankings. I am not being judgmental on the commentary out there, but can you guarantee that the scheme that scored higher by a few bps can sustain that forever? Particularly, in fixed income? The answer is no. (One basis point is a hundredth of a percentage point.)
How do you rate yourself?
We aim to beat the benchmark. Evaluate me if I’ve beaten the benchmark. If I don’t, the market will automatically punish me. Money will flow out the door. And some of that has actually happened. Also, post the global financial crisis, we took a conscious view that our liquid funds’ priority will be liquidity, and not yield. Naturally, the performance suffered relatively and we fell in the rankings. We lost assets but I am fine with it.
Are you saying that your performance is not at all an issue? And that you are consistent?
We have consistently beaten our benchmark. But agencies and media compare funds with the peer set. They may have their own justification, but there are different frameworks out there that throw up several results.
My big challenge is, the peer set with which our funds are compared may not be homogenous. Some could be funds that take high risks and our funds do not take undue risks. You can accuse me of being ultra-conservative, but there is a market and group of investors who prefer this. Once I get clubbed into that same basket, then on a relative basis I will be handicapped.
Post the restructuring in HSBC, we hear it has not been selling your schemes or negligibly. how does it impact you?
That’s not true. You can see the white list of HSBC (the list of funds that they recommend) and HSBC mutual fund is in it.
But do you still get a lot of business from HSBC?
HSBC group follows an open architecture model. Therefore, if my funds perform well, they’ll find their way in the white list. It’s definitely different than other bank-sponsored AMCs, where close to 90% of their overall sales are in-house schemes.
There have been concerns that your fund house might exit India; that it has been put on block, a prospective buyer even looked at it but didn’t find anything substantial. Does HSBC India AMC still exists?
This is a core business for us. Financially at a global as well as at an Indian level, a profitable business and high return on equity. There is growth in trade. Also, in every part of the world we live in, there is an ageing population, which is looking at retirement. We are in countries such as India and China, which are still young and growing and looking for savings. Media and commentators have been speculating and I have to disappoint them. I’d like you to tell me if there is anything in the market for us to acquire, rather than the other way around.
So HSBC AMC is here to stay?
Do you think there is space for foreign AMCs in India?
Some distributors say that HSBC India AMC sent out letters in the past 2 years, dis-empaneling them because the said distributors didn’t get business for it?
I can assure that nothing of that sort has happened in the recent past. But if in a relationship something isn’t working, then you just have to be taking hard decisions. That you go your own way, we go ours.
Has it happened on your watch?
No, definitely not.
Even so, if some distributors say this has happened, what does it say about a fund house that is shutting its doors on distributors when, at the same time, it wants to grow? What happens if, tomorrow, if you decide to scale up? How can you do it when you are dis-empaneling distributors at the same time?
Such an event has not happened over the last few years. It may have happened further in the past, but let’s assume it did happen. Very often, decisions in issues have to be taken based on whatever outlook you have at that point in time. My strategy is: we want to deal with distribution, engage with them but we are sure it is going to be a finite group, a smaller list than perhaps what is the market practice—of dealing with 5,000, 6,000 distributors. What’s the point of having a distributor who you’re never going to meet in your life? It is business loss in its own way because in all likelihood he is looking at published data somewhere… as a manufacturer I stand nothing to lose. I don’t need him; I have not invested in him. There is no cost to me. If he sells, I will pay, but nominal. So I’ve got nothing to lose.
But I think in the long run, it makes more sense to me to build more relationships with a smaller group of distributors. One with whom I can actually cultivate and build deeper relationships. We treat distributors as our clients and believe that the investor is really the client of the distributor. And the more I invest in my distributor, the more I am actually investing in the end investor. But if I have 10,000 distributors, maybe I’ll hold once in a year Diwali party and there too I’ll invite the top 1% of my set and end up upsetting the rest. I’d rather have a small group and invite all of them together.