India's Infrastructure Development Financial Company, now known simply as IDFC, was named Asset Manager of the Year by AsianInvestor magazine, for its work in private equity, mutual funds, and sustainable investments in emerging markets.

This is the first time AsianInvestor has given this award to an indigenous Asian firm (the two previous winners are Pimco and BlackRock). IDFC was established with backing from the Asian Development Bank to kick-start private-sector investing into Indian infrastructure, a theme that has come to prominence. Indeed, the need for such investment continues to be overwhelming.

IDFC has several arms that are also innovating. Its mutual-funds business has dedicated itself to financial inclusion, meaning coming up with equity and debt products aimed at bringing India's mass market out of traditional, informal arrangements into formal, regulated capital markets. This has resulted in its having a client acquisition rate of 1000% per day throughout 2009.

IDFC is now taking its experience overseas, making it among the first Indian asset managers to set up abroad. Its Singapore office, IDFC Capital, is staffed by first-rate professionals with deep experience in emerging markets and sustainable development, who will marry IDFC's private-equity experience with socially responsible principles to help develop infrastructure and other assets in other developing countries.

CQS, the UK-based $6 billion multi-strategy hedge fund, was named Asset Manager of the Year -- Alternative Investments. The award recognises the work that CEO Michael Hintze has done on behalf of the industry by vocally speaking out for hedge funds at a time when other executives chose to remain silent in the face of looming (and unwarranted) regulation from the European Union.

China Investment Corporation was named Institutional Investor of the Year. Founded in 2007 with $200 billion funded by the central bank's foreign reserves, it got off to a rocky start with investments in Morgan Stanley and Blackstone that initially lost money.

A fund of this size, which now has a portfolio of more than $300 billion and is going to be seeded by the government with an additional $100 billion, was always going to catch the attention of investment managers. CIC has managed this process with skill and professionalism.

Early in 2009 it made clear its intention to focus its efforts on real assets, and followed through with important deals, such as taking direct stakes in Teck Resources, Noble Group, Noble Oil Group and Penn West Energy Trust. 2009 was the year that CIC regained the initiative and planted it squarely as the region's most important investment group.

In addition, AsianInvestor selected its best distributors of investment product in four categories: insurers (Manulife), private banks (the Standard Chartered Private Bank), consumer banks (Citi) and securities firms (Nomura Securities).

Generally speaking, last year was one in which distributors faced tremendous business and legal challenges, and in many cases stopped actively selling investment products. Our winners were largely chosen for their ability to support the business. Next year we hope conditions allow the award to focus more on advice and service.

Manulife's regional network agency has made it the shelf of choice for many fund managers. It used 2009, perhaps taking advantage of AIA's distractions, to grow its investment-linked product teams. It has a new joint venture in China and launched its first unit trusts in Singapore as well, which will allow it to compete should the Prudential acquisition of AIA proceed.

Standard Chartered's private bank saw asset levels grow 25% in 2009. Fund managers praise it for continuing to launch new programmes around the region, at a time when others were scaling back. This includes programmes to help customers in India, Korea and Australia diversify their portfolios internationally.

Citi is perhaps the obvious choice among consumer banks, as it has been the most active during a year in which activity among banks generally declined. It has been the most successful in generating interest among customers for mutual funds in the first half of 2009, when the industry at large had ground to a halt.

Nomura Securities demonstrated why it is the biggest player in Japan, and showed the world that many Japanese investors are not the meek, play-it-safe types they are often assumed to be. Throughout late 2008 and early 2009, the firm was able to convince customers that the bottom was the right time to invest. This effort was capped in the first quarter with a series of funds targeting US high yield in tranches of emerging-market currencies such as Brazilian real or Turkish lira. Not only has this raised lots of assets but also sparked a host of similar products among competitors.