When, as a 15-year-old, Anthony Mei set out with his schoolmates for a class visit to the Wellington stock exchange, he had no idea his life was about to change. During the next few hours, he was enthralled by the noise, action and general excitement of everything going on there, and decided not long afterwards that he wanted to make his future career in the world of finance.
"I was interested from that point on and started to watch the markets more closely," says Mr Mei, who is now chief investment officer of Kingsway Fund Management Limited.
Of course, a long road lay ahead, but that was not something to deter him.
On leaving school, he attended Wellington's Victoria University to study commerce, making sure along the way to take all the finance courses that were available. Then, looking to broaden his horizons, he moved to Sydney to work in a bank and, subsequently, completed a full-time master's degree in advanced finance in 1995. He elected to do a final-year thesis on the complex area of options and derivatives, and this was ultimately to play a big part in his professional life.
Sensing limited opportunities at the time in Australia, Mr Mei jumped on the plane to London and soon found a corporate finance job with a firm specialising in valuations.
"It was good exposure and gave me the chance to learn a lot in a short time," he recalls. Besides that, it provided the springboard for a move to Hong Kong in 1996 to join the securities arm of Singapore-based DBS Bank. The new role was as a sell-side research analyst focusing on red-chip stocks. The responsibilities basically involved studying the share performance, writing reports and making recommendations.
As an analyst, you must be able to communicate well with the management of the companies you cover
"As an analyst, you must be able to communicate well with the management of the companies you cover," Mr Mei explains. "It's also important to understand everything about their financial statements, plus the outlook for business growth and earnings."
In the course of the next three years, with the full force of the Asian financial crisis, he also learned how volatile markets could be. However, after weathering that storm, Mr Mei was ready for a new challenge. He therefore accepted an offer to join Dao Heng Securities as a senior derivatives analyst, looking after the firm's proprietary trading. The job required intense concentration during trading hours and also called for independent decision-making.
"That was what made it difficult, fun and exciting, all at the same time," says Mr Mei. "I could initiate trades, back my own investment ideas and see them play out in the market." Senior management monitored the day-to-day positions and, no doubt, were more than impressed by the annualised return on investment of around 30 per cent.
After gaining further experience in hedge funds and as a portfolio manager with two other employers, Mr Mei took on his current post with Kingsway in mid-2005. His five-person team handles the firm's investment function and runs nine separate funds.
In terms of activities, every day is different. There is, though, frequent contact with brokers and constant monitoring of the financial news. This is crucial for assessing different portfolio positions and deciding on the best trades to execute.
Mr Mei emphasises that the key to attracting investors and being able to set up new funds is a good performance record. That depends on specialist knowledge of general trends and niche markets, and makes sales a lot easier.
He points out that a degree in a finance-related discipline is not essential for people interested in the field. More important is to be intelligent, hard working and "quite aggressive".
"I still really love my job and the profession," he says. "It's fast-moving and challenging and I couldn't think of doing anything else. In the longer-term, though, I would definitely like the chance to manage my own funds."
Since the Chinese yuan is not yet freely convertible, there is still some way to go before financial markets and fund management offer the kind of opportunities Hong Kong does. However, Mr Mei notes that many more mainland jobs are opening up in corporate finance and predicts this trend will continue as the bigger Chinese firms seek further foreign investment and stock market listings. "Some absolute return funds have moved into China," he says. "The access to market is limited but this will change in the next few years."