Fullerton Fund Management is poised to see the departure of another senior level executive, marking the latest in a set of senior exits over the past year and amid a merger with NTUC Income.

Chief operating officer Jeff Plein announced in an email seen by AsianInvestor that his "original mandate when joining the firm had largely been fulfilled", and that he was “comfortable that it is timely for the firm to seek different leadership to take it through its next stage of growth”. 

He also revealed in his email that he would “take this opportunity to re-focus my attention on a new challenge in the market”. 

Plein has worked at Fullerton since 2014 after joining from BlackRock, where he had worked for eight years. He was named AsianInvestor's COO of 2017

The COO indicated in the email that he would immediately work in a “special projects role reporting to the CEO” during a transitional period, possibly referring to a notice period that he will work through.

Plein declined to comment to AsianInvestor over his reasons for leaving, beyond saying that he intend to “remain on very good terms with Fullerton”. 

In response to emailed questions, a spokeswoman for Fullerton said: "Jeff Plein has relinquished his responsibilities as COO and will be working on special projects, reporting to interim CEO Ho Tian Yee."

She added that Anupama Sawhney, head of corporate strategy, would become acting COO while maintaining her present responsibilities. Sawhney has been with the firm for nine years.   

The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Plein's departure related to the merger with NTUC Income—something Fullerton has yet to confirm—or if other senior departures were expected. 

Changing times

Plein’s departure from Fullerton comes amid a time of great change for the Singapore-based fund manager.

AsianInvestor revealed at the end of August that Fullerton had agreed to merge with NTUC Income, the second largest Singaporean insurer. That merger appears set to help Fullerton act as an in-house manager for the assets of NTUC. The state links of both companies are also likely to help facilitate a merger; Fullerton is owned by state investment company Temasek while NTUC was set up by the government, although it’s not believed to be directly state-owned.

Fullerton’s senior management has also undergone some personnel changes during the past year, in moves some observers speculate to be linked to the merger. Manraj Sekhon, the company’s former CEO and CIO, left in November last year. Later that month Patrick Yeo was promoted to CIO from head of fixed income, and there have been other appointments since.

The fund manager has named no new CEO yet, although Ho, who is also Fullerton's chairman, took responsibility for the role after Sekhon's departure. 

In addition, Gopi Mirchandani left the role of head of Fullerton's sales strategy in December and has since become Singapore CEO of NN Investment Partners. Her role was absorbed into that of Trevor Chudleigh, Fullerton’s head of business development.

Merger pressure

Fullerton is not the first asset management company to have opted to embark on the merger route. Many other fund managers have also felt the pressure to merge, amid a period of rising competition from passive fund houses and reduced returns. The combination is squeezing active fund manager fees and forcing them to cut costs and justify their investing approaches.

Plein told AsianInvestor in an interview in August that the industry as a whole faced rising regulations, fee pressure and the need to underline brand expertise and unique selling points. He said this might require Fullerton expanding into more multi-asset and absolute return capabilities. 

Last week, Commonwealth Bank of Australia said it was looking to put its investment arm, First State Colonial, on the block, while last year Janus Capital and Henderson Global Investors agreed to a merger. Other major asset management companies are believed to be weighing the prospects of consolidations as well. In addition, Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management are contemplating the launch of a passive funds business following their £11 billion ($14.83 billion) merger, which was completed in August

This story was updated to include an emailed response from Fullerton Fund Management's spokeswoman, and to reflect that NTUC Income is the second-largest Singaporean life insurer.