Despite the inexorable growth of its client assets under management, the world’s biggest fund manager remains vulnerable to staff changes in tough markets, with important implications for its equity investment desk.
BlackRock, which reported a new peak of $7.43 trillion in assets under management at the end of 2019, has in recent weeks seen several senior executives leave, with their responsibilities absorbed by incumbent staff.
They include Oisin Crawley, Asia-Pacific chairman of the alternatives division (and formerly head of Asian equity research and a portfolio manager); Jon Howie, Asia-Pacific head of index strategy; and Ben Garland, who had overseen client relationships for factor strategies in the region.
These departures come as Andrew Swan, the firm’s head of Asian equities, prepares to leave in mid-April, leading to a reorganisation of the emerging market equities team.
Crawley decided to exit BlackRock to pursue other opportunities, a spokeswoman told AsianInvestor. He had been there since January 2014 and his licence with the firm ended on March 31, Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) records show.
Following Crawley’s departure, Michael Dennis’s role as Asia-Pacific head of capital markets will expand to incorporate the additional post of Asia-Pacific head of alternatives strategy, the spokeswoman said.
“In this new role, he will conceive and drive a strategic vision for our alternatives business in Asia-Pacific, and work closely with the regional BlackRock Alternative Investors team and our distribution partners,” she added in a statement.
Hong Kong-based Crawley assumed the alternatives role on May 1 last year, according to a note published by research house Morningstar on May 3, 2019. He had worked as a portfolio manager until then, having joined the firm as head of Asian equity research.
Stephen Andrews had replaced Crawley as co-manager on the Asia Pacific Equity Income Fund. Andrews co-manages the strategy alongside Alethea Leung, who stepped up as co-manager on June 2018 following the departure of former co-manager Chris Hall.
Crawley had overseen the strategy since 2014 and provided continuity in the wake of Hall’s departure, added the Morningstar note. “That said, his track record both here and on the BGF Pacific Equity strategy has been below par,” it said.
During Crawley's five-year oversight of the Asia-Pacific Equity Income strategy, it returned an annualised 0.09% against the benchmark index performance of 0.48%, according to Morningstar. Over the same period the Pacific Equity fund lost an annualised -0.39% as against the index return of 2.92%.
In further changes to the equity investment division, Swan’s departure will affect the BlackRock Asian Dragon strategy, which he had lead-managed, said Morningstar in a note on April 2. The fund will now be co-run by Leung and Andrews.
Leung had been working with Swan on some Asian Dragon institutional mandates since 2017 and was named a co-manager alongside him in May 2019, the note added.
Swan had also been co-manager of the BlackRock Emerging Markets strategy alongside lead manager Gordon Fraser. Replacing Swan as co-manager is Kevin Jia, who joined BlackRock in 2015 as a research analyst from KKR, where he worked as a private equity analyst, said Morningstar.
Andrews and Fraser are also taking over as co-heads of global emerging market equities on Swan's departure.
CLIENT RELATIONSHIP EXITS
On the client relationship side, Garland has decided to leave BlackRock after 20 years with the firm and return to England, the spokeswoman said. As senior investment strategist, he had overseen Asia-Pacific client relationships for the factor-based strategies team and his SFC licence ceased on March 27.
The spokeswoman declined to confirm whether Garland would be replaced, saying only: “Factor investing remains an important part of our multi-asset investment platform and a strategic priority for our business in Asia.
“The multi-asset strategy team in Hong Kong ensures seamless client coverage in our region, in addition to resources from the factor-based strategy team in London, New York and San Francisco,” she added.
Meanwhile, Howie moved on at the end of March. Based in Hong Kong for his latest role, he had been with the firm since July 2011 in the passive investment division, including as Australia head of iShares, the exchange-traded funds business.
Howie decided to leave to pursue other opportunities, the BlackRock spokeswoman said. She declined to comment on whether he would be replaced.
There have also been new arrivals at BlackRock in recent months, among them Steven Mong. He started in January as Asia-Pacific head of business development for trading, lending and liquidity. The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Mong had replaced anyone or to provide further details.