Funding & Investing

Built to fit: a bespoke cash investment policy for Asia Pacific

Published: Mar 2017

Asia Pacific is far from homogenous, which brings all manner of complexity for the corporate cash investor. It is therefore crucial for corporates to have a cash investment policy that is both robust and flexible and that encompasses local nuances whilst still aligning with global objectives.

Thought for the Month

Read further insight from J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s Thought for the Month series’.

Fit for purpose

It is clear from these examples that a cash investment policy built for the US and Europe has to be adapted to fit Asia, especially if the policy limits options too narrowly or exposes the organisation to unnecessary risks. But what precisely needs to be changed and how can treasurers go about this?

There, of course, is no silver bullet; policies will have to be drafted differently from company to company. Interestingly though, Ben Ford, Head of Global Liquidity Sales, ASEAN and Australia at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, notes that the devil is not necessarily always in the detail. “Most multinational companies will have a comprehensive policy already in place,” he says. “These will clearly define the objectives of the organisation and provide guidance around risk tolerance, for example. The temptation when adjusting this policy for the Asian market can simply be to add in more detail, highlighting precisely what can and can’t be done in each market the company is operating in.”

The policy should therefore be drafted in such a way that it maintains the investment philosophy of the company’s headquarters, aligns with the regional office’s strategy, and accounts for local practice.

This may be ill-advised. Ford notes that some changes will, of course, need to be made to the document to accommodate local market nuances and ensure that the business is not exposed to excessive risks by using products that are not fully understood. However, he notes that whilst these changes should be well-detailed, they should not be limiting: “Ultimately the policy needs to empower local teams and enable them to operate efficiently and invest fully.”

The policy should therefore be drafted in such a way that it maintains the investment philosophy of the company’s headquarters, aligns with the regional office’s strategy, and accounts for local practice. “The only way to do this,” notes Ford, “is to take a holistic approach when drafting the policy; marrying together the local knowledge of the teams on the ground with the headquarter’s overall investment objectives. Approaching the drafting of the policy in this way will also provide uniformity across the region and ensure that the locals are comfortable with what they are doing, empowering autonomous decision making.”

Don’t delay

Making changes to an investment policy, no matter how minor, requires a significant degree of effort. Indeed, according to the latest J.P. Morgan Global Liquidity Investment PeerViewSM survey, 82% of those planning to amend their policies stated this would require moderate or significant effort.

Interestingly, the same study also highlighted that only 26% of companies in Asia Pacific were considering making changes to their policies. When compared to the 39% in the Americas and 46% in Europe that said they were, this indicates that policy change is not top of mind for treasurers in Asia at present.

There is a logical reason for these findings, as the study also revealed that only 11% of corporates operating in Asia Pacific had been encouraged by their banks to move non-operating deposits off its balance sheet as a result of Basel III. And with a plethora of other challenges currently being dealt with by treasurers in the region it is understandable that their efforts are being focused elsewhere at present. But with the Basel III regulations increasingly beginning to bite, Shevlin encourages treasurers to start thinking in more detail about their investment policy.

“Bank deposits continue to be the investment tool of choice for corporates, but this will soon change as the banks in the region begin to conform with the Basel standards,” he says. “Once these changes are fully implemented, corporates will be forced to diversify their investments and think more proactively about what they are doing. Those companies that go through the short-term pain and create a robust and flexible policy will reap advantages in the long term.”

A trusted partner

Ford observes that corporates embarking on this journey away from bank deposits do not tend to start using complex products right away. Indeed, he notes that the journey for corporates is typically slow and considered.

“Most corporates in Asia tend to start investing cautiously in the region, primarily using time deposits with safe banks,” he says. “As they become more comfortable with the region and its rules and regulations, they eventually start branching out and use other instruments.”

As one of the region’s longest standing asset managers, Shevlin notes that J.P. Morgan Asset Management is there to support its clients at every stage of this journey. “Having offered short-term cash investment solutions to corporate clients in Asia for over ten years, we have built up a wealth of knowledge and experience,” says Shevlin. “Our clients can tap into this at any time and we are constantly acting as thought leaders to ensure our clients stay abreast of any changes that might impact their operations, or provide new opportunities.”

For Shevlin, investing with J.P. Morgan Asset Management ultimately gives treasurers reassurance. “Asia can seem complex and confusing,” he says. “There are lots of headlines about risks in the region but there are also lots of opportunities; having a fit for purpose investment policy suited to the region is the first step treasurers need to make in order to take advantage of such opportunities and stay one step ahead of their industry peers.”

Making informed investment decisions: An investor’s perspective

Portrait of Abel Martins Alexandre, Head of Commercial Treasury, Rio Tinto

Abel Martins Alexandre

Head of Commercial Treasury

Rio Tinto has successfully put in place a robust framework to guide the investment of its short-term cash holdings. Here Abel Martins Alexandre, Head of Commercial Treasury, in charge of treasury operations, price risk management activities, and credit and trade finance at Rio Tinto, explains why this has been such an area of focus.

Why is it vital for RioTinto to have a robust cash investment framework in place?

A robust cash investment framework provides a way to make informed investment decisions and brings about stronger governance in this area. It also helps drive transparency and accountability throughout the investment process.

This is clearly of value to Rio Tinto and in particular to the team of front-office dealers making investment decisions. The framework quantifies market conditions and volatility to determine when and where to invest in order to generate higher yield, within a pre-approved list of options that may include treasury funds, liquidity funds, and bank deposits. This is done without detriment to the principles of preservation of capital and liquidity and within the Group’s defined risk tolerance.

How often do you review/make changes to the investment policy, especially in order for it to fit the various markets in Asia Pacific?

The investment framework is approved by the Board, is revisited periodically, and is meant to apply to the global cash investments of the Group.

In making the framework prescriptive, but not restrictive, we have been able to seamlessly move the management of our investments from London to Singapore without making any significant changes to our policy. That being said, we spend a lot of time keeping abreast of the regulatory developments in the markets across Asia Pacific, Europe and North America, and ensure our framework and investments stay fully compliant with regulation and aligned with markets evolution. We use expert judgement to how we apply our framework and have a process to review our risk environment and investments on a weekly basis.

How does your investment framework define what you are looking for in an asset manager and why did you choose to work with J.P. Morgan Asset Management?

J.P. Morgan Asset Management is one of our key partners. In choosing our partners, we wanted to work with asset managers who understand the principles our investment framework, who have the right products for us to invest in, which J.P. Morgan Asset Management, as a well-established and global provider of short-term cash investment solutions certainly has.

It is also important that our asset manager be more than just an investment vehicle for our cash but also a business partner at large. Global coverage and local knowledge really help, as J.P. Morgan Asset Management are able to guide us on the market trends and regulatory developments across different regions, as well as highlighting the challenges and opportunities that exist. In an uncertain environment, where markets are a little bit more difficult to read, this type of partnership certainly adds value to us.

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