Janus finds growth in Asia

The US mutual fund company is expanding into Taiwan and Korea.

Janus International, the $5 billion global arm of Denver, Colorado-based Janus, a $145 billion mutual funds company, has not had a presence in Asia for long, but reports a brisk business around its expertise in managing American securities. Having established a head office in Hong Kong just two years ago, it is now expanding its business into Taiwan and Korea, as well as bolstering itself as not just a provider to high-net worth clients but also to the mass retail market.

This suggests two things about Asia. First, the region's retail business is increasingly attractive as a source of funds. Other US houses now building a presence here include hometown rivals Pioneer and most recently Bank One. Second, because local markets have not matured, it is not that hard for a newcomer to the region with a viable US product to compete against established money managers.

For example, investors in Taiwan are US-centric, says Howcy Yeung, Hong Kong-based sales director for Asia. Janus International has a global relationship with distributor Citibank, which in Taiwan dominates offshore fund sales. "That's one reason why Citibank or other US institutions are in a good position there," she says. "No one in Taiwan knows Janus, but if they are told that we are a big name in the US, it means a lot."

Janus' strategy is to rely on third-party distributors such as Citibank, Standard Chartered and leading local banks. Yeung says this enables it to compete quite readily with other global fund managers who have been selling into Hong Kong or Taiwan for much longer. "In Asia, mutual funds have to be sold," she explains. "Most people do not own a mutual fund or understand what it is. Even established competitors don't have that much penetration. A fund company's own branding is not that important, because investors in Asia trust their banks - that's the relationship that counts."

She says in the past 10 months, Janus has raised almost $500 million from Taiwanese investors, including from retail, high-net worth and institutional clients.

Being a newcomer also has the advantage that distributors don't pigeonhole the firm. For example, in Hong Kong, the only thing that has sold over the past two years have been guaranteed funds. In the US, Janus is known as an aggressive growth stock house, but distributors in Hong Kong lacking that image are more open to considering other types of Janus products.

It has launched two guaranteed funds from its Dublin-listed suite of international products, using in Hong Kong Citi, StanChart and Bank of China as distributors; globally it raised nearly $350 million, and the bulk of the funds were sourced from Hong Kong. Yeung adds next week Janus will launch another guaranteed fund here through several banks.

Singapore has proven a tougher nut to crack. The Lion City requires any offshore funds sold there must be denominated in Singapore dollars. This is a measure designed to woo global fund managers to set up shop there, a cost that Janus so far prefers not to endure. Yeung says Janus is waiting for Singapore to liberalize the rules, but acknowledges such changes may be a long time coming.

In Hong Kong, Janus started off marketing itself through big private banks to high-net worth clients, and last year began targeting the mass retail with its guaranteed funds.

It has also registered seven offshore funds in Taiwan, which are currently sold exclusively through Citibank. Janus is in the process of registering more funds and establishing additional distribution arrangements. Getting new products registered in Taiwan is still a time-consuming business, but Yeung hopes to have something to show by the end of the year.

Korea is the current project. Janus is also now registering funds with the regulators. Yeung doesn't expect immediate results like the firm enjoyed in Taiwan. The offshore funds market is tiny, as the real action remains in domestic bond funds, but she says the scene is opening up and over time it will be an important market.

Despite the corporate governance scandals in the United States, Yeung says Janus can still do well selling itself as a US specialist. "Clients may be putting more of their funds into Asia, but they're not putting all of their funds into Asia. You just can't ignore the US market, it's still the main economic driver globally," she argues.

In the meantime, Yeung is trying to beef up the Hong Kong office of 14 with an extra hire or two this year. She had hoped the raft of people on the street would make this easy, but she has been disappointed by the quality of the applicants. For now the firm has no plans to establish a brick-and-mortar presence in other regional markets (although it does have a separate office in Tokyo) although if the assets grow, she may need a local hire who speaks the language, especially in Korea - but that is something for the future.