Greenwich Associates, the research firm, has recently interviewed around 100 Asian institutional investors. The results are still being analysed and will be published in May, but a few trends are clear, says Abhi Shroff, a consultant at the firm in Singapore.
He says the survey is likely to show three trends. First, the bigger institutions -- central banks and sovereign wealth funds -- are in no hurry to change their asset allocation, and few are systematically rebalancing back to equities. They are not cutting the overall number of external mandates but they are replacing managers that performed badly last year. Shroff says incumbent managers are at risk, but newcomers to the region have an opportunity to win business.
Second, more bank treasuries, pension funds and endowments are mandating third parties for passive investments. "We're not sure if this is a long-term trend," Shroff says. Overall, the number of new mandates has fallen a lot. Last year, when Greenwich conducted a similar survey, about half of the institutions said they were looking to hire additional third-party managers; now few are, and those are mostly looking at passive or multistrategy answers.
A corollary is that more institutions are interested in bringing aspects of investment in-house, but Shroff says few have the resources or know-how to handle things like counterparty risk assessment or securities lending programmes.
The third trend the survey has identified is specific to Asia, and it is that institutions are far more open to advice on their investments. In the past, institutions rarely asked for advice beyond the narrow confines of a particular strategy, nor did they hire investment consultants except for manager shortlists.
It's not evident that investment consultants can take advantage of this new hunger for advice, because they charge a fee for this service. Of course, consultants are independent. But asset owners seem keen to take advice on things like asset/liability modelling or training that a fund manager may offer as part of its bid to win mandates. Again, Shroff indicates this is a potential selling point for fund houses new to the region.