The step-up in demand for technology expertise is a relatively new recruitment trend, but one that is likely to lead to a reshaping of Asian asset and wealth management.

The importance of technology to the investment industry cannot be overstated. It has huge and growing implications for every aspect of the business, from research to fund and stock selection to research to operations to distribution.

Regulators, asset owners and managers, banks and other distributors are all ploughing more and more resources into this area. Fund houses are expanding or starting to build digital marketing teams in the region and eagerly eyeing the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI), headhunters told AsianInvestor.

A high-profile example is BlackRock’s appointment at the start of this year of Damien Mooney, its former regional retail head, to lead its digital strategy for Asia Pacific on a dedicated basis.

The larger investment managers and distributors of funds now need to commit large budgets to technology on an ongoing basis. Chinese e-commerce giants such as Alibaba and Tencent have been at the forefront of electronic distribution of funds and are demonstrating its huge potential. Robo-advisers are just one symptom of the new trend; another is increasingly sophisticated use of quant expertise for factor investing.

Historically there has been very little capital expenditure in asset management, but now a lot of money is going into AI, because fees are coming down, said an Asia-based chief executive officer at a large global insurer.

“Capex on IT spend is now continual, which increases the underlying capital cost of that business.”

Two key hires made last year demonstrate how the forward-thinking and sophisticated players are approaching the challenges and opportunities of the digital landscape in Asia. For one, Douglas Chow took up a newly created role at BlackRock in Hong Kong in April: global head of active equities integration and data. He also has oversight of the active equity division’s data scientist capabilities in New York, London, India and Hong Kong. 

Chow was previously a portfolio manager at Fidelity, where he conducted pioneering work in respect of interpretations of company annual reports, said a Hong Kong-based recruiter. “He’s an interesting guy to watch for the future because of what BlackRock is doing with big data.”

A spokesman at BlackRock told AsianInvestor: “Massive advances in technology and data sciences are reshaping traditional methods of equity investing. We are building capabilities that combine big data, advanced technologies supporting our systematic investing teams and our Aladdin platform to allow for new insights and opportunities to outperform.”

Sophisticated institutional investors are also taking note of such trends. Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC hired Wu Choy Peng to the newly created role of chief technology officer, effective August 14. She will provide integrated oversight for technology and data analytics, said the fund in a statement at the time.

“In a landscape that is increasingly uncertain and competitive, GIC actively leverages technology to harness data, deepen insights and sharpen its edge,” it added. It is still relatively early days when it comes to hiring of tech specialists in Asia’s investment industry—expect a lot more activity in the coming years.

This is the second of a five-part series. In part one, we look at the chase for China talent.