Fidelity adds manager trio to direct fund platform

It has included Aberdeen Asset Management, First State Investments and Investec Asset Management to its open-architecture offering. But Cerulli sees difficulties with the model.
Fidelity adds manager trio to direct fund platform

Aberdeen Asset Management, First State Investments and Investec Asset Management have become the latest to be added to Fidelity Worldwide Investments’ open funds platform.

The additions bring the number of external managers on the FundsNetwork platform to 13. A combined 30 funds were added, taking the total to 220 that are available to retail investors in Hong Kong.

Fidelity is set to add two more managers, as previously reported. But Bruno Lee, Fidelity’s regional head of retail for Asia ex-Japan, said it needed more time to bring this to fruition. He said they would be added this year. The aim is to provide a wider range of fund options rather than to fill gaps.

Fidelity is the only asset manager that offers an open architecture platform directly to retail investors in Asia.

Alex Boggis, managing director at Aberdeen AM in Hong Kong, said joining the fund platform offers potential for more diverse distribution.

Though Fidelity’s fund platform is not a large player in Asia, he noted, it could become one given the success of direct platforms elsewhere and in China. Large distributors could also fill that space, and have the advantage of client numbers, Boggis said.

Aberdeen prefers using intermediaries to direct distribution, he added. “Bank and insurance distribution is our priority outside of institutions. This platform is an interesting alternative and I doubt the existing distributors are concerned, as the market is big enough.”

Meanwhile, Ng Sze Yoon, research director for Asia at Cerulli Associates, doubts that other fund houses will follow in Fidelity’s footsteps.

While she concedes that it does provide fund firms with a new distribution channel, better control and direct contact with end-clients, she said: “This is a very costly business. It’s hard to achieve scale and you also never want to risk being perceived by distributors as biting the hand that feeds you.”

While she confirmed that there were others managers contemplating a similar model, none have gone down this route. “The closest would be BNY Mellon with their segregated managed account [SMA] programme,” she observed.

BNY Mellon launched SMA in Hong Kong in 2013 to offer investors access to third-party fund managers, as reported.

But this model is different to Fidelity’s in that the programme was designed to partner private banks in order to tap their high-net-worth clients.

“For this model to be worthwhile from the standpoint of time as well as monetary resources, you need scale. Both of these managers have a successful business in other markets: Fidelity through its 401K programme in the UK and BNY Mellon through Pershing in the US – as well as deep pockets to fall back on,” Ng noted.

Although fund managers are moving towards the distribution end of the business, they are doing cautiously to avoid upsetting intermediaries, in particular banks.

Even the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock told AsianInvestor it would consider carefully before going direct to customers online as this could disintermediate distributors it works with already, as reported.

“Although managers are taking a deeper interest in the distribution end of the business, [they are doing so] through acquisition,” said Ng.

Schroder Investment Management moved to buy London-based wealth manager Cazenove Capital in 2013 for $648 million, as reported.

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