Fortis Investments, the $180 billion fund manager based in the Benelux countries, is proceeding to regionalise its asset-management businesses in Asia, building upon an existing set of discrete onshore activities, says Richard Wohanka, global CEO.

This is despite the ongoing saga in Europe over FortisÆs bid to acquire ABN Amro, in a consortium with Banco Santander and Royal Bank of Scotland, which is competing with Barclays Group for the Dutch firm. Should the Fortis/RBS/Santander bid win, it is expected that ABN Amro will be broken up among the three, with Fortis to acquire ABN Amro Asset Management including its Asia business.

Wohanka was unable to comment on the potential deal in any way, other than to say it has no effect on FortisÆ existing plans to build its own business. Its goal is for Asia Pacific to grow from 10% of asset management profits today to 30% by 2010.

ôThe target is a tough one if itÆs achieved through organic growth,ö Wohanka explains. ôA number of things have to happen. But it is feasible if current trends continue.ö

Fortis Investments is a relative newcomer to Asia, having begun activities here in 2002 and becoming operational in 2004. It has taken an unusual approach: whereas many foreign fund houses start with a hub in Hong Kong and Singapore to launch onshore businesses, Fortis has gone the other way around, building three domestic businesses that it is now looking to tie together into a coherent regional strategy.

For the first three years of operations it created local-currency investments for onshore clients in Japan and Indonesia, as well as a joint venture in China, Fortis Haitong Fund Management. It now plans to do so in Korea and India, as well as establish a more pan-Asian capability.

ôWe couldnÆt establish a regional business because we lacked the three-year track record for our Asia products,ö Wohanka explains. But now those track records exist, prompting the firm to establish a regional hub office in Hong Kong under Mark te Riele.

It then hired Mabel Chan from Invesco to run wholesale distribution, and Nah Wee-ping to oversee institutional distribution, for international products.

Fortis is keen to establish an onshore business in Korea, and is looking at options including doing a joint venture. ôWe like the JV approach and would like a partner there,ö Wohanka says.

In India, the firm intends to follow its sibling company, Fortis Insurance, which has entered a JV with two partners, Industrial Development Bank of India and Federated Bank. Fortis Investments is in discussions with the same pair of banks about establishing a JV in asset management by the first quarter of 2008. (The insurance JV was agreed in November 2006.)

The firm currently manufactures funds for Japanese equity in Tokyo, Chinese equity and bonds in Shanghai and Indonesian equity and bonds in Jakarta. It is establishing a team in Hong Kong for Asian equities. Amsterdam runs listed and unlisted real-estate investments (including Asian assets), teams in London and Paris manage Asian convertible bonds, and London manages global emerging-market bonds.