We were delighted to feature Sharmin Foo, Head of Communications and CSR at Dymon Asia Capital in November’s instalment of our PR Leadership Series. Founded in 2008, Dymon Asia Capital is a leading Asia-focused alternative investment manager headquartered in Singapore.
Here are some highlights from the 30-minute conversation, which was moderated by IPRS President, Marcus Loh.
Marcus: What do you do in Dymon Asia Capital?
Sharmin: I help to build and enhance the culture and the brand. I am involved in ESG matters. I drive diversity and inclusion and help in media relations too. I work very closely with the Chief of Staff to make sure that whatever we drive is in line with what our Managing Partners’ vision for the firm is.
Marcus: How has Covid-19 impacted Dymon Asia’s stakeholders, both external and internal?
Sharmin: In the initial two months, internally, the staff were OK with the work from home requirement. After two months, we started to miss the face-to-face interaction with each other although we were able to adapt well and still able to engage with investors, with reports coming in on time. Not being able to travel, we had to level up our conversations with our investors and keep it going; and to remain accessible to our employees as well as our investors.
Marcus: These days, people are getting information from their social media fields and many subscribe to aggregated platforms. What does this shifting media landscape mean for Dymon Asia? How do you do communication?
Sharmin: Gone are the days where press releases were embargoed as PDF documents and sent to traditional mailboxes. These days, everything is instantaneous. It makes us so much smaller and so much more interconnected. Trump tweets ten times a day. With just 280 characters, they found that he affects the price dynamics of US Treasury bonds so J.P. Morgan actually created an index named after him – the ‘Volfefe Index’. Business intelligence and media surveillance is the way to do it. Business intelligence software such as Tableau and MS Power BI aggregates what people are talking about and helps keep your ears on the ground. This helps to mitigate or avoid reputational risk and build a credible reputation.
Marcus: The financial industry hasn’t fared that well on the part of being accessible and transparent in reputation surveys internationally for many years. It seems to be predicated by the idea that the industry is focused on the short term for the shareholders and not the broader community, and singularly on the bottom line. What can communication chiefs in the financial space do to restore that level of trust and credibility in the industry?
Sharmin: Some financial institutions are defining what successes look like for their stakeholders. They measure the impact on the environment and the community, as much as they are focused on doing well, from a commercial standpoint. I think, from our point of view, we know being socially responsible is the right thing to do. Data shows that in the next couple of decades, the transfer of wealth from baby boomers to millennials is expected to be more than 30 trillion dollars.* Just in the US alone, they expect millennials to invest up to 15 to 20 trillion dollars in socially acceptable or related responsible funds. Of late, there’s been a lot of talk about environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies. It’s the right thing to have these in place, with trends like global sustainability challenges, data privacy and regulatory pressure driving ESG higher up the agenda for firms everywhere. It’s mutually beneficial for a firm, institution, company and for clients as well. We follow the UN PRI – the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment – and plan to become a signatory shortly. The UN PRI oversees responsible investments for different firms and now has about 1800 signatories and USD $68 trillion in assets under management.
Marcus: How much is the correlation that you see, or the cause and effect that companies or funds that are more friendly toward ESG expectations or ESG standards with returns that they give to their shareholders? What is Dymon Asia’s perspective on that?
Sharmin: A lot of data and research – e.g. from MSCI and J.P. Morgan amongst others – has shown that companies that are involved in responsible investing do better and give better returns to their clients and investors.
Marcus: So, what you are saying is that it also has become an expectation on the part of the investors and the part of the people who contribute toward the funds?
Sharmin: Yes, definitely. As I mentioned before, it’s mutually beneficial.
Marcus: Communication does not necessarily have a seat at the strategy/decision-making table in board rooms. How do you make sure you always have a seat and that your counsel is taken?
Sharmin: We have had instances where we had to deal with crisis communication. That’s when management realises it’s important for the communications person to have a seat at the table, as that’s an ongoing relationship with the media (and it helps to have a personal relationship with the journalist). If management believes in building the brand, image and reputation, they will ensure the communications person has a seat at the table.
Marcus: Some IPRS members are interested to make a change to the financial sector. In this data-driven marketplace, what are some of the new skills that communication practitioners should acquire so that they can stay relevant and be competitive?
Sharmin: Communication is not just about putting a message across or building a brand. It’s important to put together information. If you see the latest US election, they use cartograms instead of the traditional maps. Every story that you tell should be validated by data, pictographs, references and not just words; fact check is the biggest thing now. When you use business intelligence or media surveillance, it’s easier to stand your ground, build your story and to validate what you are going to say to your clients and audience out there.
Marcus: For students who have graduated and seeking a career in the PR and comms industry, they may not necessarily be employed in the field that they want. What is your advice for them?
Sharmin: Take on whatever job you can, even part-time work such as writing and editing jobs. Make sure you network and talk to as many people as you can. Put as much experience as you can in your resume, build your resume and use it as a stepping stone.
Marcus: What is the value of IPRS and the role it plays, why should people be a member and be active in IPRS?
Sharmin: I am a member of IPRS and it’s important to have a galvanizing body. IPRS is a good accreditation body. The breadth of knowledge and deep insights that you can tap on the experienced PR professionals in IPRS is very important for members.