THE WAR IN Iraq was supposed to be the biggest drain on the fund management industry, but as it turns out, Sars has eclipsed it. The only silver lining for Edith Ngan Man-ling, chief executive of the Hong Kong office of Invesco Asia, is that the effect of the public health crisis will not be long-term. The Informer caught up with her to discuss funds, family and religion. Q: Does Sars really affect fund sales that much? A: It does. At the beginning of the year, everybody was worried about the war between the US and Iraq. But something worse happened in the last two weeks of March when, with the outbreak of Sars, many people stayed away from public areas and bank staff found it hard to sell funds. That was when we had launched a new guaranteed fund. Fortunately, with the fund set to close in May, we still have time to catch up. Sales ... resumed gradually in mid-April as some people returned to the investment market. You just can't stay at home forever. I believe many Hong Kong people want to get on with their lives. Q. How much has the investment outlook been affected? A. Global stock markets are still uncertain. Now the war is out of the way, the stock markets will resume focusing on economics and earnings reports, which are currently giving mixed messages. The market may not recover until late this year or early 2004. The government tax rebate measures may ease the hardship but there are no guarantees people will spend the rebated money. The government must do more to stimulate the economy and encourage people to spend. Only when people start spending, will we see an economic recovery and a bounce back in the stock market. Under such situations, I believe investors will stick to conservative investments, such as bond funds and guarantee funds. Q. Will Invesco change its expansion plan in Hong Kong because of this? A. No. Invesco has a long-term commitment to Hong Kong. We have invested a lot in the local retail funds and Mandatory Provident Fund [MPF] businesses. We are glad to see that the government did not suspend MPF plans as recommended by some legislators. This shows the government has a commitment to pension fund development which is important because pension investment is long term and short-term events like Sars do not alter the need for pension planning. Our company believes Sars will only be a short-term crisis. Invesco will still use Hong Kong as its base for expansion in the Asia-Pacific. Q. How is your company adjusting to Sars? A. We split our staff and have them work on different floors. We also ask some to work at home. We are avoiding travel unless it is for very important meetings. Q. Has Sars affected your personal life? A. My husband is a doctor who works in the Prince of Wales Hospital, where they first found Sars. My husband has not been affected but some of his colleagues have been. This added to his workload and sometimes he could not come home. My two children, who are 10 and 7, could not go to school due to the suspension of classes. I also needed to work at home due to the split team arrangement. [They] are too small to understand why their mother stayed at home but could not play with them. I also needed to fight them for the computer so I could do my work. It was really a very exciting month for me. As the outbreak seems to be under control now, family life is getting back to normal. Q. How did you first get into the fund industry? A. I studied for a degree in engineering at Stanford University before returning to Hong Kong to work for Swire [Pacific] ... I then studied accounting in Britain and practised with Price Waterhouse in London. After qualifying, I joined the Securities and Futures Commission in Hong Kong in 1993 and Invesco in 1996. Q. Has it been a long journey to become chief executive of a fund house? A. It is a long way. I have worked in a wide range of departments in Invesco, including sales and marketing for both retail and institutional investors. I also prepared the launch of its MPF business in 2000. It has been a great challenge for our company to compete with other banks which are distributors of our retail fund products. It is a real challenge when your distributors become your competitors. We have to think of other ways to sell our pension plans. Fortunately, our MPF business was better than expected and we secured a lot of big companies as our clients. I think the MPF business helped me to prepare for my role as chief executive last year. Q. What would you do if you were not a fund manager? A. I would study religion. Being a fund manager helps handle people's wealth but not their spirits. Religion is maybe the answer for that.