Rusiru Abeyasinghe is excited about the future potential financial services has in contributing to the development of Sri Lanka. As it becomes expensive to manufacture in Sri Lanka due to rising labour costs, the growth will come from value-added services, such as finance, he says.
The government is also supporting the establishment of the Colombo International Financial Centre, the Colombo Port City and the legislation required to make Sri Lanka a financial services hub for the region. With these developments, there will be opportunities to expand activities in capital markets, banking and restructuring, Abeyasinghe foresees.
In unit trusts, where he operates, Abeyasinghe believes innovative products will be introduced, including flexible closed funds which allow limited trading, sector-specific funds and low-risk funds. With the new products, he is expecting to attract more professionals to invest in unit trusts.
“We want to attract professionals who have sizable salaries but aren’t able to look at the stock exchange website every few minutes or who think that equity is too risky.”
“We want to attract professionals who have sizable salaries but aren’t able to look at the stock exchange website every few minutes or who think that equity is too risky.” Abeyasinghe leads National Asset Management Limited (NAMAL) the pioneer in unit trusts (mutual funds) in Sri Lanka with Rs8.5 billion in assets under management, including private portfolios. He took over as chief executive in September 2018, when the unit trust industry hit a rough patch.
The government withdrew all remaining tax benefits on unit trusts, which led to Rs6.5 billion rupees in funds fleeing the industry. However, not all is lost, Abeyasinghe says. While NAMAL uses its brand to remain in the forefront, it recently received approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission to diversify and set up a separate, Chinese-walled, subsidiary which will invest in real estate; one of the most popular asset classes in Sri Lanka.
“Even companies see real estate as an investment opportunity, especially in office space,” Abeyasinghe says. Abeyasinghe was crucial to the diversification strategy, given his experience in real estate investment. Before he joined NAMAL, Abeyasinghe, a CIMA charter holder with an MBA from the Cardiff Metropolitan University, spent eight months as the chief operating officer of DPMC Assetline Holdings, the property management arm of the David Peiris Group.
Most of Abeyasinghe’s career was at Phoenix Ventures, the parent company of the apparel giant Brandix, where he had exposure to a myriad of asset classes, including private equity, listed equity, fixed income and real estate. He had joined Phoenix Ventures as an investment analyst in 2007, and was its Head of Investments when he left the firm in 2018.