Hong Kong-headquartered life insurer AIA has appointed Shrikant Bhat in a new role as its head of funds, after poaching him from his previous position as head of investments for high net worth individuals at Citi’s global consumer group in Asia Pacific.

Bhat sent an email on Wednesday (July 24) in which he said he “had joined an equally exciting organisation [as Citi] – AIA Group”, while his LinkedIn profile indicated that he is now head of funds for AIA. Bhat referred AsianInvestor's questions about his new role to AIA's spokespeople.  

It is understood that Bhat joined AIA in its Singapore office in mid-July. A spokesman for AIA said he was hired then coincided with the launch of a new affluent customer-focused funds platform, called AIA Platinum Wealth Elite.

The insurer appears to have targeted Bhat due to his experience targeting wealthier clients while working at Citi. 

"[Bhat's] mandate is to develop a world class funds platform to support long term savings and protection solutions that best meet the long term needs of AIA clients," the spokesman told AsianInvestor.  

Shrikant Bhat

In his new role, Bhat reports to Cheong Poh Kin, the head of AIA's investments centre of excellence.

Bhat's move to AIA brings to an end a 23-year tenure at Citi, during which he held numerous positions. Most recently he had been a managing director and regional head of investments for affluent and high net worth individuals, a position he had held since January 2016. Before that Bhat had worked as head of wealth management in Singapore since November 2009.

In both the email and a message posted on LinkedIn, Bhat extolled his long career at Citi, noting "over the last couple of decades Citi has provided some fantastic experiences in cards, treasury, retail banking and wealth management across multiple markets". 

A spokesman for Citi said the bank had tapped Sameer Deshpande to take over as head of investments following Bhat's departure. Deshpande is now regional head of investments for the global consumer group in Asia and Emea at Citi.  

CHANGING APPROACH

AIA, which had $230 billion in assets as of the end of 2018, has been making numerous changes to the manner in which it invests and the products it offers. In 2018 it shifted to a centralised regional investment hub in Singapore, while in January it appointed Trevor Persaud as its new head of investment solutions.

The insurance company's launch of its new wealth product platform and appointment of Bhat appears to underline its desire to attract investments from more affluent customers, placing it in more direct rivalry with private banks in the region. 

Speaking to AsianInvestor in a broader interview in Singapore in early July, Mark Konyn, group chief investment officer of AIA, said the insurer wanted to persuade its policyholders that they should invest more money in investment products.

"The key is to give our policyholders confidence that it is not a question of 'Things are too difficult at the moment; let’s keep all our money in the bank'. Because that risks becoming a neverending way of thinking that becomes self fulfilling," he noted.  

Life insurers in Asia have eagerly eyed the opportunity that growing wealth and middle classes offer. A desire to take advantage of this helped underpin Hong Kong-based insurer FWD's recent acquisition of Metlife's Hong Kong operations. Insurers are seeking to expand into less developed markets too, with FWD currently competing with UK-based Prudential to become an insurance distribution partner for Vietnam's largest lender.   

Updated to offer more detail on Shrikant Bhat's role at AIA, his replacement at Citi and to clarify his role at the organisation's consumer bank arm.   

Andrew Crooke and Kenan Machado contributed to this story.