US fund manager BlackRock has transferred corporate governance specialist Clarence Yang to Hong Kong from London, reinforcing a trend for investors to focus more on environmental, social and governance (ESG) and socially responsible investment (SRI) issues in Asia.

The world’s biggest asset manager naming Yang as its first Asia head of corporate governance and SRI sends a strong signal about the growing importance of such issues, says Jamie Allen, Hong Kong-based secretary general of the Asian Corporate Governance Association (ACGA).

Until 18 months ago, Aberdeen Asset Management was the only fund manager with an ESG or SRI specialist based in Asia, adds Allen.

Peter Taylor has been with Aberdeen in Singapore as investment manager and head of corporate governance since 2007, having previously worked for the International Finance Corporation in Washington, DC and Hong Kong.

And APG, which manages the assets of the Dutch state pension fund, has had a senior sustainability specialist in Hong Kong since 2009, in the form of YK Park.

Moreover, Yang’s relocation to Hong Kong follows similar moves recently by BNP Paribas Investment Partners (BNPP IP), Colonial First State and HSBC Global Asset Management.

HSBC relocated Xavier Desmadryl to Hong Kong from Paris in November to coordinate the integration of SRI issues into the firm’s investment processes worldwide. He is global head of SRI research and PRI, a role that refers to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, which HSBC signed in 2006.

Colonial First State moved senior portfolio manager David Gait to Sydney from its Edinburgh office in November for a 12-month assignment to boost the focus on sustainability issues. He reports to Amanda McCluskey, the firm’s global head of responsible investment in Sydney.

In addition, BNPP IP boosted its Asian SRI effort by moving portfolio manager François Perrin from Europe to Hong Kong in May as head of Asian SRI equities, and two more have since joined the team, boosting the regional headcount to three. Adam Child joined in January this year and Vithaya Chhuor in July 2010.

BNPP IP's global SRI team now comprises around 20 investment professionals, based in Paris and Hong Kong.