Private banks have not typically been big clients of mutual fund managers in Asia, but that has been changing in recent years. As mutual fund sales to, and through, wealth managers has risen, so traditional fund houses are sharpening their focus on them as a client segment.

The latest example of this trend is BlackRock’s appointment last week of Kueh Tan-Yuan as head of private bank business and strategic client development for Asia ex-Japan. She has moved to Hong Kong from UBS Securities in Beijing for the role, and reports to Damien Mooney, Asia ex-Japan head of retail business.

Kueh assumes the private bank remit of Heather Pelant, formerly Asia head of retail and private bank distribution. Pelant relocated to the US from Hong Kong earlier this year, as reported.

Ashley Norton remains Singapore-based head of BlackRock’s private bank distribution for Asia ex-Japan. The private bank team continues to report to Norton, who in turn reports to Kueh.

Kueh will work on deepening relationships and building the retail and wholesale client base.

She was China head of wealth management at UBS, before leaving on July 11 after three years' service. Before that she was at Macquarie Group for 10 years. Zhang Qiong, head of investment products and services has taken over as acting head for China at UBS Securities, but the firm declined to say whether it will name a permanent replacement.

A BlackRock spokesman declined to reveal the size of the private bank sales team, but said the firm is looking to increase headcount to support the growth of its retail business.

“BlackRock’s private bank business is one of the fastest growing areas of our retail business,” he told AsianInvestor, declining to provide figures. “The strength and depth of our product offering provides the required diversification this group of sophisticated investors is looking for. iShares [BlackRock’s exchange-traded funds arm] in particular has had tremendous success in Asia.”

Sales of mutual funds and ETFs are growing through private banks for a number of reasons, including that discretionary portfolio management is on the rise in Asia and that the market has shifted away from structured products towards simpler investments.

Private bank sales business has often sat within fund houses’ institutional coverage, but that too seems to be changing. BlackRock, for example, restructured its retail business two years’ ago to create one distribution platform across its whole product range. Private banking is now part of its retail business. Mooney became head of the retail business for Asia in October 2013.

Other firms have also made recent changes to their distribution set-up in the region, with a view to sharpening their focus on intermediaries. They include JP Morgan Asset Management, State Street Global Advisors and T. Rowe Price, which appointed Travis Spence, James MacNevin and Scott Keller, respectively, to newly created posts. Morgan Stanley Investment Management is also looking to build out in that area.

The retail segment in particular in Asia is gaining more attention from international fund firms these days, with passporting proposals increasing the lure of domiciling products locally. Axa Investment Managers and Neuberger Berman are the latest in a line of firms to be registering more funds in Asia with a view to building their retail business.