Aviva Investors, the asset-management arm of UK insurer Aviva, has kicked off a major recruiting drive in Singapore by creating the post of Asia ex-Japan chief executive for equities and fixed income and appointing Tahnoon Pasha to fill it. The firm has also added distribution staff in Melbourne, its Asia-Pacific head office.

When he joins on July 21, Pasha will have a "big budget" to bring in 12-18 equity and fixed-income analysts and portfolio managers in Singapore and potentially also Hong Kong. Equity will be the main focus, says Craig Bingham, Asia-Pacific chief executive in Melbourne. There are currently 11 investment staff in Singapore and 16 in Melbourne.

"We also have some Asian equity capabilities in London, but we want to build an alpha-focused equity offering in the region," he adds. In addition to equities and fixed income, the firm may also look at alternatives.

This build-up of the investment team is part of a plan to almost treble overall headcount in the Lion City from 20 people to a team of 54 by the end of 2011 across real estate, equities, fixed interest, sales, operations and compliance. (Bingham had signalled in October 2008 that the Asia team would be built up organically, unlike several of its other businesses elsewhere, which were acquired.)

Bingham's target for asset growth is equally ambitious. He aims to have $35 billion in Asian AUM in four years' time, up from around $10 billion now, to be accounted for largely by net inflows. Some $1.3 billion of that is in real-estate investments in Singapore, while there are also funds manufactured in Australia. (Global AUM is £222 billion ($362 billion).)

It's always a challenge finding experienced talent, but Aviva's hiring target is feasible, says Bingham. "Since the GFC [global financial crisis], we've been able to talk to a lot of people of varying skills and a lot more senior people than in the past," he says.

The uncertainty over the proposed takeover of AIA (AIG's Asian unit) by Prudential is also creating a lot of movement in the market, he adds, because some people are looking for certainty. "That is opening up more conversations," he says, a sentiment shared by other insurance and asset-management executives AsianInvestor talks to.

Asked whether Aviva Investors' relatively late move into the region will hinder it in terms of building up brand recognition in Asia, Bingham says that might have been the case before the crisis hit. "But now we're seeing more rational and sustainable business practices being put in place," he says. "So it's actually good to come in with a clean slate; we don't see [being a late mover] as an impediment now."

A 20-year veteran of the financial services industry, Pasha has held a number of regional senior management posts. He was most recently head of regional equity investments at MFC Global Investment Management, part of Canadian insurance group Manulife Financial.

MFC GIM is already seeking a successor to Pasha and, in the meantime, head of Asia investments Michael Dommermuth and global CIO for equities Chris Conkey are overseeing the Asia-Pacific team.

Pasha joined MFC from United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth fund the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia), where his last post was deputy chief investment officer for emerging Asia and head of the Asean region. Before that, he covered Asia as an analyst and portfolio manager for 17 years at Adia. 

Aviva Investors' regional real-estate team will remain under the leadership of Ian Hally, Asia-Pacific CEO for real estate. 

Aviva Investors has also made senior business-development hires in Melbourne recently. Dale Rowley takes up the newly created position of Asia-Pacific head of product, with responsibility for developing investment solutions across the region. The Asia head of product, once appointed, will have a reporting line to Rowley, who is an internal promotion.

Andrew Peterson becomes head of retail business development for Australia, a newly created position. He has a corporate law background and has held senior distribution positions. 

Marina Boetto is named institutional business development manager, having been with the firm for over five years in senior roles in both financial planning and fund management.

Australia is expanding its distribution focus locally with these three appointments. Aviva Investors has three major centres in Asia -- Australia, China and Singapore -- each of which will be charged with creating investment solutions.