Chen Peng has joined Dimensional Fund Advisors, a $245 billion quantitative asset manager, in a newly created role as CEO for Asia ex-Japan. He joined last week from fund research firm Morningstar, where he was president of the global investment-management division.

Chen, a Chinese native who has been based in Chicago since the 1990s, will move to Asia and has already begun building teams for the region, including sales, client service, investments and trading. (At the firm, he presents his name Western-style, as Peng Chen.)

He declined to specify his official base of operations, noting he will be moving between embryonic offices now being planned for Hong Kong and Singapore.

Chen represents the second big Asia-focused hire for Dimensional, following Carlo Venes’ arrival at the start of 2012 with a remit to build institutional business in Asia ex-Japan. Chen reports to Eduardo Repetto, Dimensional’s co-CEO and chief investment officer, who is based at the firm’s headquarters in Austin, Texas.

Chen’s background is academia and consulting, with an investments tilt. He obtained a doctorate at the University of Chicago before joining Ibbotson Associates, an investment consultancy whose founders have close ties with the founders of Dimensional, which also pursues an investment process grounded in academic research. 

At Ibbotson, he moved from overseeing its research department to CIO of its investment-management business, in 2004. The business was acquired by Morningstar in 2006, and Chen was promoted to run its entire range of investments-related businesses, with around $200 billion of assets under advisory or management.

Chen says he joined Dimensional because it allows him to bring the firm’s academic-based investment approach to Asia’s industry.

The firm is expanding to Asia both to build local investment capabilities and grow assets. It has long had an operation in Australia and is considering an entry into Japan, but Chen will be responsible for core Asia.

At this point he is reluctant to discuss the firm’s plans in any detail, other than to say it will gradually build a mix of sales, client service, investment and trading capabilities in both Hong Kong and Singapore. It awaits licensing and regulatory sign-offs in both markets.

With Venes running institutional sales, another target will be to win high-net-worth individual clients from Asia. Globally, the US-based firm’s assets are roughly split between institutional and individual clients, but in Asia its clientele has just been institutional.

Chen declined to go into specifics about how the firm will target wealthy individuals – via family offices? Via private banks? Directly? “What counts is how they operate, not under what entity we approach them,” he says.

Venes, who reports to both Repetto and Chen, says rich individuals in Asia are institutionalising their approach to investing, which makes wealth management an increasingly compelling client segment.