60 seconds with Raffles Family Office’s William Chow

William Chow cites Ray Dalio as an inspiration for him for the way that he clearly communicates complicated principles on life, investment and management in his books

By Ignites Asia | June 22, 2022

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William Chow, Hong Kong-based deputy group CEO Raffles Family Office, who was a mathematics buff at school, names Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates’ founder and co-chief investment officer as someone who has inspired him for the way he clearly communicates complicated principles on life, investment and management in simple language in his books.

Chow is a competitive table tennis player, an amateur historian and an avid hiker who has travelled to New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland. He hopes in future to take on the challenge of ascending the 4,478 metre Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Alps.

1) Could you briefly describe your role, responsibilities and day-to-day activities?
I am the deputy group CEO of Raffles Family Office. I basically look after the day-to-day operations and formulate the strategy with the co-founders as well as the CEO, with a primary focus on wealth management solutions, including fixed income, private equity and structured products.

I am also a member of the board of management, as well as the investment committees, and we sit down together with the co-founders and the CEO to formulate the strategy for the company.

As a senior executive, the days are filled with a lot of different meetings, whether that is client meetings or investment-based meetings and meetings sometimes with regulators. I also spend time dealing with client requests and doing interviews with media.

2) What did you study at university, where, and what did you plan to do after graduation?
I studied in the U.K. from the age of 14 and was always interested in mathematics. So naturally when I started thinking about a career at around the age of 15 and I did my SWOT analysis on what I was good at and what I was not good at, mathematics was a standout option for me.

But when I looked into studying mathematics, I didn’t have a very clear picture of what exactly to do, so as a result I applied to study civil engineering as my first degree at University College London in the U.K. But after doing summer jobs while I was at university, I discovered that civil engineering was probably not a really good fit for me. So then I decided to study a master’s degree in science and operational research at the London School of Economics and Political Science straight after graduation.

That gave me a much clearer picture of what I wanted to do with my career, in using mathematics to provide solutions in either management or the financial industry.

While at LSE, I established a good network and again did my SWOT analysis on my job prospects and ended up in a trading role at UBS in Hong Kong, which was pretty closely related to maths as well.

3) How did you end up working in asset management and in your present role?
When I first started in about 1999, I think I was quite fortunate to land a good job on the trading floor at UBS, and I stayed there for four years. Then I realised that I wanted to do something more on the macro side, as I found I was not so into the buy and sell transaction business side of the industry.

After that, I was quite fortunate to join what at that time was the second largest asset manager in the world, State Street Global Advisors, as a portfolio manager, and that kickstarted my career in the asset management industry. Then in 2008, during the global financial crisis, when there was a focus in the world on diversification, I joined Barclays Global Investors, which was subsequently acquired by BlackRock. After that, in 2010, I joined Value Partners in Hong Kong as a group managing director, where I stayed for seven years.

Finally, I worked for China Life Franklin Asset Management as a deputy CEO for three years before joining Raffles Family Office at the start of this year. After working in the industry for 23 years, the role at Raffles Family Office appealed to me as it involves providing a lot of different solutions to clients, not only in terms of investment solutions but also in terms of their wellbeing and focus on wealth preservation for the next generations.

4) What are some of the skills that you have had to develop and that you think are most crucial to your role?
The skills that you learn evolve over time. I think at the beginning of your career you learn to be detail orientated as you are the most junior person. And honestly, I learned from my mistakes, but I learned quickly from that to be a very detail-orientated person. I think it’s good to make mistakes early in your career, because the older you are when you make a mistake, the more trouble it is likely to cause.

In my different management roles, developing strong decision-making skills has been very important. Developing leadership skills and how to inspire your co-workers to work as a team to achieve the targets set by the firms has also been crucial.

In management, soft skills are very important too and you need to learn to listen and
take advice from different people, but then take that information on board to make
the right decisions.

5) What has been the most rewarding moment of your career so far and why?
When you look back at your career, there are probably rewarding moments every year. But I have gone through multiple global crises in my career, such as the financial crisis in 2008, or 9/11 in 2001 or SARS in Hong Kong in 2004, not to mention the social unrest and Covid-19 pandemic in Hong Kong over the past three years.

But what has been rewarding is being able to work with and learn from team members and senior leaders during these times to make the right decisions to weather these crises in terms of risk management and portfolio management.

During Covid, when there were global lockdowns that had never happened before. During that time, finding a way to manage and address fears from other colleagues to help manage the situation, and being able to show leadership when the rm and industry were facing unprecedented challenges, that felt like a very rewarding moment.

6) Could you talk about a person in the industry that has inspired you?
Ray Dalio, the founder and co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates, is really someone who has inspired me. I read two of his books probably about 15 years ago and they had a big impact on me. The first was Principles: Life and Work and the other was Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order.

The first one actually I have managed to apply to my daily life. It includes five principles for daily life that can be applied to someone’s personal life, investment as well as management style. It provides a very systematic approach to managing all these aspects of work and life.

His books are very well written, and the inspiring thing about Ray Dalio is that he is able to convey a very complicated concept in very simple language for people to comprehend. There is no point in using a lot of different jargon or complicated financial or legal terms. And for those who don’t have time to read the books, they are explained on YouTube in a very dramatic and entertaining format too.

I’ve never had the chance to meet him, but I would love to someday.

7) Where do you see yourself in your career in 10 or 20 years’ time?
In 10 years’ time I will be 56 years old, so hopefully I will have been able to achieve all the goals I have for the company by then. Beyond 10 years I hope I will have a non-executive role and will be able to pass on my advice.

My broader goals and aims over the longer period will be to give back to society, and to do more training and mentorship for young people starting out on their careers. When you talk more to younger people in the industry you also get the chance to learn new things.

I’ve already been doing some mentorship for students at Hong Kong University and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for the past 10 years. Learning goes two ways. I am sharing my experience with them, but they are also teaching me new things such as about crypto investing.

8) What do you think is the most important or interesting trend that could change the asset management industry, and perhaps specifically alter your role, over the next five or 10 years?
I think we are actually moving into a new phase of the asset management industry, in which blockchain and digital assets will be invaluably embedded behind all these changes, and this is expanding into the private wealth industry too.

When I look at blockchain and China, these are the two areas that are too big to neglect. Blockchain is one area of the industry, especially the next generation, they are really into it. But like when there is a new asset class, there are always a lot of
ups and downs to start with. I think it is all about education and engagement with the regulators to help them understand the situation and these technologies will become more prominent going forward.

In terms of investment, there is still much debate about the advantages of passive versus active investing. For managers who are not able to outperform their benchmarks, their strategies will essentially become passive strategies, but for those who can really generate alpha people will still be willing to pay. So, I think the barbell situation in the industry separating passive and active investing will become more pronounced.

9) What advice would you give someone beginning their career in asset management now who might end up doing your job in the future?
My advice to all my students and my subordinates is “don’t be me” or by which I mean don’t simply try to emulate me or any one of their seniors. Why try to become someone else when you are yourself and you can cultivate your own career path?

One of the things that I would advise them is to constantly do the SWOT analysis, which can help them find their strengths and weaknesses. Everyone is different, but it is important to spend time thinking about how what they are good at and find what their interests and passions are. If you are not at heart a salesperson, but you become a salesperson, you are not likely to do well. No one knows yourself better than yourself.

10) If you weren’t in the asset management industry, what other professional eld could you see yourself working in?
I might surprise you. It would be nothing to do with mathematics.

In fact, in the past few years, I have had a growing interest in history, so if I wasn’t in asset management I would like to have become a historian, working in a museum learning about the history of different periods and museum artifacts.

I am particularly interested in the first and second world wars, and how the world developed to such a position where two world wars were started and how that relates to today’s modern history and political changes. I am also interested in the Victorian period of history in the U.K. too and how the British Empire grew during that time.

11) When you are not working hard in the office, where are you to be found?
I do like hiking, and I have been hiking globally to lots of places, including New Zealand, Switzerland and Australia. But with the constraints of the Covid situation I haven’t been able to hike globally.

But even in Hong Kong, you’d be amazed that you are able to hike for 10 km in the morning, have a business lunch in Central and have another two meetings in the office, and then go for drinks on the same day. I don’t think there are really many other places in the world you can do that. And the hiking trails in Hong Kong are amazing, there is so much nature and history behind it.

If there is one place I would like to hike where I haven’t yet been though, it would be to hike up the Matterhorn in Switzerland. That would take a lot of training and I am not quite there yet, but it is something I would like to do.

I also play a lot of table tennis, and take it very seriously and I compete for a club too.

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