BlackRock is making several senior transfers to consolidate a new approach to distribution in Asia. Asia-Pacific chairman Mark McCombe has made retail sales one of his priorities since taking the role last year, and now the final pieces of the jigsaw are being laid in place.

Chang Lin-Yun is relocating next month from Taipei to Hong Kong to serve as managing director and head of retail for Asia ex-Japan.

This is technically not a change in role. Taiwan has traditionally been an important retail market and Chang has run that business, and the region, from there. But his move to Hong Kong is meant to underline the growing importance of retail distribution to the firm, and allow him to coordinate things more effectively.

Secondly, Heather Pelant transferred from the US to Hong Kong at the start of September to take on a newly created role within the firm, as managing director and head of retail sales for Hong Kong, Singapore and Southeast Asia.

Reporting to Chang, her role is to run the retail business regionally, including iShares for exchange-traded funds and other passive products, and the active and quantitative mutual funds side.

McCombe says her focus will be on private banks, and she has a remit to build a team for client relations and product development. Exact numbers and roles are yet to be worked out, but the firm is in hiring mode.

These moves follow several related appointments: in March, Joseph Pacini was tapped to run the firm’s alternative investments strategy group for Asia, followed in June by Andrew Landman to head alternatives in Australia; and in May, Jane Leung was promoted to run iShares across the region.

On the institutional side, Winnie Pun will continue to lead business development in Asia ex-Japan.

There have been exits as well, such as Sandra Lee, who recently quit her role as head of iShares sales for Asia ex-Japan.

The reshuffling is based around the notion that clients such as private banks as well as institutions were being faced by too many product specialists, marketing active or passive strategies in equities, fixed income and alternatives.

This approach may be more effective in the US or Europe, where local pension funds, endowments, insurance companies and wholesalers are used to surveying a broad selection of investment products.

In Asia the clientele is more concentrated and prefers customised products. “I hate to use the term ‘solutions provider’ because it’s so overdone,” McCombe says. “But business needs to be driven by client demand. We’ve gone through a big rethink of distribution.”

Heather Pelant

Under Chang and Pelant, the firm will consolidate its interfaces with consumer and private banks, so that it can have a more strategic, less product-oriented discussion with clients or potential clients, covering passive, active, quantitative and alternative approaches. Later, once the teams settle in, they will add insurance companies and private wealth managers to their roster.

McCombe points to one example: this year, in Japan, the firm launched a product on behalf of a distributor that blends US high-yield bonds with a US high-yield ETF exposure, giving the product a different risk/reward and liquidity profile. That, in turn, has allowed the bank client to distribute the product to a broader investment base.

“This blended approach is the sort of thing I want to replicate across the region,” he says.

Chang has worked at BlackRock since 2001, initially at Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, which merged with BlackRock in 2006. He began as MLIM’s country head for Taiwan. He also worked as Citigroup Asset Management’s Taiwan chief rep, and as a China-related equities portfolio manager in Singapore at an investment unit affiliated with Chinatrust Group.

Pelant joined the firm in 2003, initially at Barclays Global Investors, which merged with BlackRock in 2009. She ran distribution for iShares’ US private wealth business, as well as headed up iShares’ Canadian business. She has also worked for Morgan Stanley Asset Management and the Morgan Stanley Consulting Services Group. She grew up in Malaysia and studied in Japan.