The great-grandson of Alexander Henderson, who founded modern-day Henderson Global Investors in 1872, is also called Alex. He has recently been spending a lot of time in Hong Kong and North Asia generally. Expect to see more of him, as Henderson expands its Asian presence beyond its Singapore stronghold.

The London-based concern set up shop in Singapore in 1995 and has now amassed $3.3 billion in Pacific investments managed by 15 staff. Now casting about for growth opportunities, the markets of North Asia are obvious magnets. The firm already markets Luxembourg-listed CCAF funds in Hong Kong, and has a fixed-income mandate from Mass Transit Railway Corp, among others.

But it is getting more serious, now opening a fully-fledged branch here and making a real effort to court the retail investor, and not just operate through private banks. Henderson distributes funds through major banks such as Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered. “We want to get into the markets in which they are the most active: Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan,” says Alex Henderson.

One strategy is to kick off a series of educational seminars and workshops, to get the brand name out and help bring Hong Kong investors up to speed with mutual funds. “Asian investors realize the need to diversify. Singapore’s Central Provident Fund and Hong Kong’s Mandatory Provident Fund schemes are helping them understand mutual funds.”

Does he want to become an MPF service provider? “Certainly we do,” he says. “But MPF itself is going through a developmental stage. We want to wait for it to settle down and see what products are sustainable, what gaps we can fill.” The first stage toward this is to get a Hong Kong dealing license, expected next month. This past February, the firm hired Julia Liu from BNP Paribas Asset Management to head up local business development.

Henderson the firm boasts strengths in tech – it claims to be the largest technology fund manager outside the United States – and in property, as well as in socially responsible investment. “We will make sure we fly the flag on that specialty,” Henderson says. “Socially responsible investment is strong in Europe and Japan, and it will grow in Asia.”

In addition, the firm is keenly eyeing Taiwan. It has a consultant now sniffing around for joint venture or acquisition possibilities, with the aim of securing a Securities Investment Trust Enterprise (SITE) license. In the short run, the firm is re-applying to the local Securities and Futures Commission to authorize some of its funds; it first tried in 1998 and 1999 and, like many managers, was rebuffed by the ultra-conservative regulator. Henderson hopes to have both strategies in place within 12 to 18 months.

On China, Henderson must remain mum. “I can’t share that strategy right now,” he says, noting the firm’s focus this year must be Hong Kong and Taiwan first. He gives a lot of credit to the firm’s growing interest to its consultant and Hong Kong business chairman, Stuart Leckie. “He's been driving us to look toward China,” he says. “He's passionate about it.”

Henderson is owned by Australia’s AMP, which is seeking an insurance license in Beijing. Alex Henderson says that one option is to develop a model similar to Japan, where the Henderson office reports directly to Sydney, and where the insurance arm and the fund manager mutually develop their business.