Hammer falls on fundsÆ retail teams

Deutsche and AllianceBernstein are among those slimming or shedding wholesale distribution personnel.

Layoffs continue to plague the asset management industry in Asia, but the most vulnerable area appears to be individuals running retail distribution efforts.

Many asset managers spent the past few years building up retail businesses, in pursuit of high-fee business chasing bull markets. Providers traditionally in the institutional area -- among them Goldman Sachs, State Street Global Advisors and UBS Global Asset Management -- created product and distribution for Asia's retail market, sometimes with notable success.

But now the pendulum has swung the other way, with many firms indicating they are realigning resources to focus on institutional business. Pension funds, central banks, sovereign wealth funds and insurance companies must still allocate their sizeable assets, and Asia's institutions are just beginning to look at corporate credit, global equity, private equity and other areas. Business may not be great, but it still exists.

Even traditional retail powerhouses such as Fidelity Investments and Schroder Investment Management have indicated their emphasis this year will be on the institutional segment.

One of the first to cut a senior executive focused on retail was Allianz Global Investors, which last year let go of Eleanor Wan, a well-regarded CEO in charge of Hong Kong retail distribution for a variety of AGI brands, including RCM.

Now other firms are following suit, by laying off senior (read: expensive) individuals focused on retail distribution. AllianceBernstein has just let go of Suzanne Ton, director of sales and marketing in Hong Kong, although the rest of the senior executive team is expected to remain in place. (AllianceBernstein confirmed Ton's departure but would not comment on the circumstances.)

The situation is getting more alarming, however: Deutsche Asset Management has just gotten rid of not just an executive but its entire Hong Kong retail sales team. Terrence Lee, director and head of Hong Kong retail distribution, has been let go along with three team mates.

Market sources speculate similar cuts could hit DeAM's Singapore office. "They appear to be pulling out of retail distribution in general, although the institutional business will remain intact," says an observer familiar with the layoffs. A Deutsche Bank spokesman confirmed Lee's departure but declined to comment.

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