Investments  

“There is that sense of responsibility”

Emerging markets have been one of the most popular areas for investors for some time now, but Africa – particularly sub-Saharan Africa – and the Middle East are still out of the comfort zone for many.

This is not the case for Sonal Tanna, lead manager on the JPM Africa Equity and JPM Emerging Middle East Equity funds, who seems to have found her niche.

“I just really enjoy investing so I’ll find interesting opportunities whatever market I am looking at. I think the interesting thing about emerging markets is how new technology and processes mean the path that developed markets followed will not replicate itself exactly. Even though you might end up at a similar point in the future, the route there will be quite different. It is quite interesting to see how technology is changing that quite rapidly.”

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Although she studied economics at university – a subject she describes as “more theoretical than what we do day-to-day” – she was very clear that she wanted to work in the financial services industry. “What I’m quite attracted to is the fact that the results of what you do are quite visible in this industry. I’m interested generally in how companies operate – I’ve always been interested in that so it was one of the attractions.”

Ms Tanna applied to the graduate programme at what was then Flemings and became an emerging markets analyst.

“It had a position in the equity side in the emerging markets team and today I’m still in the same team. Even though the firm has changed names and we’ve had joiners and leavers, actually quite a lot of the people I started with are still here, which is great and I think we have retained our own team culture.”

She points out that with such a large number of people covering different markets, there is no ‘star culture’ – it is very much a team dynamic. “With such a big team you would either be working in silos on your own project, or you would be interacting – it’s the nature of the job. But there is no star culture here; it is more of team dynamic.”

Originally spending a number of years covering the South African market as an analyst, Ms Tanna got her first taste of managing money when changes in the emerging market asset class meant the country started to get more attention.

“We started looking a lot more at South Africa being a part of our offering within emerging Europe, making it more of an EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] fund. It had a better fit with EMEA, even though a lot of the dynamics were previously determined by global emerging markets.”

When JPMorgan decided to incorporate South Africa more closely into the EMEA process, Ms Tanna started working with the portfolio manager, eventually becoming co-manager on the JPM Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa Equity fund in 2007.