Nigel Phelan has quit his post as Asia-Pacific head of sales at commodity exchange-traded funds firm ETF Securities and will be on gardening leave until March.

He is moving back to his native Australia, from Hong Kong, for personal reasons, says Fred Jheon, Asia-Pacific head of the business. Phelan had held the role since December 2011, before which he was head of sales for Australia and New Zealand.

ETF Securities is seeking a replacement and expects to name a new hire in the next few months, as well as adding further headcount this year, Jheon tells AsianInvestor.

The London-based company launched its first three Hong Kong-listed ETFs on November 28, backed by physical gold, platinum and silver, respectively.

It won approval to operate in Hong Kong in August, with Jheon and Phelan relocating to the territory from Japan and Australia respectively, as reported by AsianInvestor.

Market participants point out that it is challenging for smaller ETF players to build scale and challenge the big providers such as iShares and State Street, particularly in a fragmented region such as Asia, as was shown by Lyxor delisting its Hong Kong-listed ETFs.

Still, ETF Securities is expanding, having this month appointed Frank Spiteri in the new role of head of European distribution to build up the client base in the retail market, where the firm is under-represented.

He previously spent two years as a trader at broking and advisory house Peel Hunt. Before joining Peel, he was an equity derivatives trader at KBC Financial Products, a subsidiary of Belgium banking, insurance and asset management firm KBC Group.

This follows ETF Securities' headcount rising 15% last year. New hires included Philippe Roset from rival iShares into the newly created role of head of sales in Benelux in July.

ETF Securities saw its AUM increase 17% over the course of 2012 to reach $28.9 billion at year end.