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In March 2018, Winston Ma became the managing partner and chief investment officer of China Silkroad Investment Capital (CSIC), a private equity investment platform focused on cross-border investment opportunities.
Ma, a masterful connector and digital native, is passionate about using capital investments to drive innovation in China and around the world. In some ways, his aspiration to blend technology and finance from East to West reflects the evolution of his own career.
“My first time using the internet was in 1997, when I was applying to university in the United States,” said Ma.
From early on, Ma straddled the worlds of technology and finance. He earned bachelor’s degrees in electronic materials and international economic law. He worked as a scientist in silicon devices in China before serving as a New York attorney specializing in derivatives, and later worked as an investment banker on Wall Street.
With each new experience, Ma began to see a clearer picture of untapped opportunities across borders and industries. He knew the right investments had the power to bring US and Chinese resources together, pushing the boundaries of technological innovation.
“Getting into the financial world allowed me to make use of my quantitative background,” said Ma. “But it was also about moving towards the front lines of capital market transactions. I felt I was getting closer to the action.”
Ma’s next move put him right where he wanted to be. In 2008, he became one of the first hires of the China Investment Corporation (CIC), the Chinese government’s sovereign wealth fund.
There, he was finally positioned to seize opportunities between two of the most important technological and financial hubs on the planet — opportunities he still pursues at CSIC.
Through the CFA Institute Asia-Pacific Research Exchange, charterholders in China exchange market expertise with CFA charterholders worldwide.
Many advancements have already found their place in the CFA® Program curriculum, which in 2019 will include more questions on topics like artificial intelligence, big data, and robo-advice.
China has more CFA Program candidates taking exams each year than any other market. The second-highest number of registered candidates hail from the United States.
CSIC’s investment strategy aligns with Ma’s observations that digital innovation in China has taken a very different path than the United States and that the gap between the two countries contains fertile ground for investment.
Unlike many US technology companies, Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba and Tencent have become powerful all-in-one mobile applications in which users can perform a range of activities without going elsewhere.
“In China, you want one app for everything because life is busy, but Silicon Valley starts with the premise that you need one app for each thing,” said Ma.
Within the past decade, US digital innovation efforts have mainly gone towards “soft technology” — software and apps that have disrupted traditional sectors of the economy such as urban transport and hotels and accommodation. However, the traditional manufacturing strength of China provides a unique advantage for what Ma calls “hard technology” — the smart hardware needed for the internet of things.
“For the past decade, the United States has led the digital transformation. But China’s mobile economy has evolved in a very different way from the West, moving more aggressively into mobile e-commerce,” said Ma. These differences are highlighted in his recent books, China’s Mobile Economy (2016) and Digital Economy 2.0 (2017).
Winston Ma, CFA
China has more than 750 million mobile internet users; 300 million of those — roughly the size of the entire US population — are middle-class spenders. Ma believes there will always be competition between the two countries, but he believes the benefits of collaboration will transcend artificial barriers.
Ma knows it’s an optimistic worldview, especially given an often-tense geopolitical relationship and current talks of a “trade war” between the two economic powerhouses, but he thinks it’s a realistic one, too. He has seen the synergies that can happen when cross-border investments allow Chinese and US innovators to collaborate, and it gives him confidence in a bright future.
“Chinese and US companies are working on cutting-edge topics, and there are many cross-pollination opportunities,” said Ma. “Why can’t all the entrepreneurs, investors, and stakeholders work together to lead a groundbreaking century of innovation?”