Head of Absolute Return and Commodities, Brunei Investment Agency
Author: Maha Khan Phillips
Twelve years after beginning her career in the fixed income department of the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA), Noorsurainah Tengah, CFA, has climbed quickly up the ranks. She is now responsible for the sovereign wealth fund’s absolute return and commodity strategies, and believes strongly in building partnerships with managers.
“We look for managers with a consistent track record of making money. We also want to have meaningful conversations about what’s going on in the market. We want partners who can share best practice with us, in terms of operations, and procedures, and who are proactive about sharing investment opportunities with us. We have to be comfortable with our managers because we see our investment as a long term partnership that provides us with everything just I mentioned,” says Tengah.
Tengah joined BIA in 2007, and had some time being posted in London as part of her job rotation. She says she has learnt a lot since then. “There has been a lot of awareness of really trying to understand what it is we have in our portfolio, to have as many data points as possible to really distil what is going on. We have also started having more regular conversations with our managers, just in keeping with best practice. We talk about the trades they are doing and their performance, really we try to keep our ears on the ground even though we’re far away in Brunei.”
As an allocator, she faces the same issues as other investors everywhere, namely, capacity and transparency around fees and concerns around performance. “You have to have a conversation if they aren’t performing as they promised. If a manager is not giving you true alpha but is giving you market beta, we should be paying something else for that. So we really need to understand what and where our returns are coming from.”
Tengah is passionate about asset allocation and innovation. She now leads a risk parity pilot project at BIA. “Two years ago we started this cross asset project, to try to find a better solution to min variance optimization based allocations.” She is also finishing her last module in a leadership development programme at Harvard Business School. “I came from a world where I was an individual contributor, and now I manage a team of people with many different types of personalities, so it’s been a learning curve. I’m constantly looking for ways in which I can be a better leader for my team. I want my team to be really open, but of course we come from a culture where people try and be respectful of others. I encourage them to really get to the truth of what we are discussing. I try to give them an avenue where it’s safe for them to make mistakes and also provide them with a platform to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are,” she explains.
In her free time, Noorsurainah loves to travel with her husband. “We’re not in the travel hub that is London anymore, but once a year we really try to go somewhere interesting.”