London-based asset manager Ashmore is continuing to expand its international presence with a move to put a branch in Dubai, its first in the Middle East, say sources in the region.

The emerging markets specialist firm is believed to have offered someone the role of head of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), but AsianInvestor could not identify the individual by press time.

Ashmore is said to have taken the decision to expand into the region late last year and to have hired a headhunter to help it find staff, say sources.

The fund house has been eyeing an on-the-ground capability for some time, notes one Dubai-based executive, who recalls being interviewed by the firm a few years ago.

It certainly makes sense for Ashmore to have a Mena presence, says another source, since it has substantial exposure to the region – likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is thought that the manager’s focus will remain on institutional business at least initially, and it will likely deploy business development and client servicing staff, but not investment executives.

While asset managers can market to and service institutional clients in the Middle East on a fly-in, fly-out basis, it helps to have a local presence to build those relationships, say fund executives in the region. As for running a retail distribution business there, it is crucial to have salespeople on the ground.

This suggests that the fund house may also be looking to make use of intermediaries in the region, such as insurance and independent financial advisory distribution platforms.

Ashmore declined to comment for this article.

It has been expanding in Asia in recent years, having set up a presence in Indonesia in early 2013, as reported. The firm had $78.5 billlion in assets under management as of September 30, of which $22.8 billion was sourced from Asia-Pacific clients.

Meanwhile other fund houses have also been expanding into Dubai. It was reported in early February that Wells Fargo Asset Management in the process of putting staff there, and Lazard Asset Management in the same month hired Farah Foustok and her team from ING Investment Management.

Moreover, BNY Mellon Asset Management in February hired Imad Abukhal from Western Asset as its first head of Middle East and Africa based in Dubai. And First State has reportedly said it will open a branch there by the end of June.

Finally, Aberdeen AM is also said to have decided it will go ahead and set up a sales and client-servicing office in Dubai, say industry players, although that’s not on the immediate horizon.