Asia is being tipped to undergo a fresh round of recruitment for money-managers as local firms target revenue generators and foreign businesses wake up to the need for an on-the-ground investment presence.

Few institutions emerged unscathed from the financial crisis, and many of the survivors, faced with vastly shrunken asset bases, were forced either to downsize or at least put hiring on hold.

Some portfolio managers were happy simply to sit in their jobs, since moving to a stable firm with a strong distribution team became a difficult proposition anyway.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the majority of people moves in Asia over the past year have been on the business development and client-servicing side, rather than portfolio managers.

However, with the eyes of the global investment community largely fixed on Asia’s stronger economic fundamentals and brighter financial growth prospects, this is forecast to change.

Jeremy Harris, who leads the Asian asset management practice at search firm Wellesley Partners in Hong Kong, says that not only are more asset houses setting up in Asia, but also that rising competition will render obsolete the old model of firms planting a few business developers in the region to test the water.

“Unless they have a particular niche product or performing global product, I think [new entrants] will quickly have to start building a manufacturing business and establishing an investment team to build and manage local products,” he says. “This is an expensive place to set up a business, with all the licensing and office costs. By putting a couple of marketers on the ground some have been seeking success in raising assets before setting up a manufacturing team.

“To be a player in the region, firms will need to be in Asia soon and with infrastructure, so I think we are going to see a lot more movement in portfolio managers over the coming months. Once it starts, it can become a bit of a merry-go-round.”

Another Hong Kong-based headhunter, who preferred to remain anonymous, concurs, suggesting that local firms are likely to start beefing up their money-managing teams after a fallow period, sparking a renewed rush for talent.

“What we have seen from the traditional buy-side over the past year is firms moving in lock-step, with everyone recruiting institutional sales people,” he says.

“We had not placed any marketing positions for 18 months, and then over course of this summer, suddenly seven firms went looking for VP-level and above marketing candidates. Recently we have also seen a greater focus on client-servicing roles.

“While these are non revenue-generative positions, it’s kind of a good bellwether of confidence. So we will probably see more portfolio manager and investment-type roles come [to Asia].”