The current financial crisis has shaken confidence in markets, but to Chinese institutions itÆs not all gloom and doom. A liquidity crisis in the western world is not about to alter the path they are on to diversify their domestic holdings. Two Chinese institutions are about to illustrate that point as mainland insurer China Pacific Insurance and domestic fund house China Asset Management (ChinaAMC) detail plans to open their respective asset management centres in Hong Kong.

Philip Young, group CIO at China Pacific in Shanghai, says his groupÆs initial efforts will focus around building a full research and investment team for Hong KongÆs securities markets, which will later expand coverage to the Asian region.

The exact ownership structure is yet to be determined. Young notes his company will likely first open the Hong Kong centre and join forces with a fund manager of global standing at a later date. If that happens to be the case, aside from serving China PacificÆs overseas investment needs, the insurer is open to the idea of using the Hong Kong platform to serve the mainlandÆs institutional market.

Shanghai research house Z-Ben Advisors estimates that untapped institutional wealth in China could amount to $1.07 trillion. In the insurance industry alone, cash now accounts for 23.6% of the $4.4 trillion of total assets on insurersÆ balance sheets, as the latest figures from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission show.

The institutional space in China is not limited to behemoths like China Investment Corporation and National Social Security Fund. Z-Ben notes the greatest source of wealth that will shape the overseas investment scene over the long-term could come from five key, but much ignored, sectors that include insurers, group finance companies, trust companies, high-net-worth individuals and local pension groups.

At ChinaAMC, similar preparations are under way to open up new sources of revenue. The Beijing office will move the QDII product lines, which the mainland fund house already runs on its own with T. Rowe Price as its US advisor, to Hong Kong.

But more importantly, Pearl Chen, a director for international business at ChinaAMC in Beijing, notes the Hong Kong centre will serve as a two-way platform, through which ChinaAMC will market QFII asset management services to overseas investors still keen on the long-term China story.

Since the beginning of this year, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) has granted 12 additional overseas institutions with QFII status, rounding up the total number of approved investors to 65.

Between March and June, the Trustees of Columbia University, Prudential Asset Management, Robeco Institutional Asset Management, the Asia arm of State Street Global Advisors, Platinum Investment and KBC Asset Management were added to the QFII list.

Most recently, in August, the CSRC added a further six institutions. These include Mirae Asset, ACE INA International, Caisse de dTp(t et placement du QuTbec, President and Fellows of Harvard College, Samsung Investment Trust, AllianceBernstein and SingaporeÆs OCBC Group.

While the securities regulator is now comfortable with the idea of attracting new liquidity to China, there remains lingering questions as to how the CSRC will handle previously granted licences to the now defunct, acquired or nationalised institutions that were hit by this yearÆs global financial crisis. These include Lehman BrothersÆ bankrupt UK arm, Lehman Brother International (Europe), ABN AMRO Bank, Dresdner Bank, Fortis Bank and AIG.

These quotas date back to the early years of QFII between 2004 and 2005. What might seemingly be a small problem will now require the mainland regulator to redraft some of its rules in the backroom.