JP Morgan Asset Management is to announce a new head for its global strategic relationship group in Asia-Pacific ex-Japan to better align resources with its largest intermediary clients, AsianInvestor can confirm.

The appointment of Travis Spence will be confirmed today based in Hong Kong, although he officially took up the role at the start of this year. He reports to Jed Laskowitz, Asia-Pacific chief executive for JP Morgan AM.

Spence was previously the firm’s head of liquidity for Asia Pacific, running its short-term fixed income business predominantly for institutional clients.

It means the US fund house now has a consistent set-up for its three client businesses globally: an institutional and sovereigns team; a funds organisation; and a liquidity team. Spence’s appointment falls under its funds business.

The global strategic relationship group focuses on the firm’s largest third-party institutional accounts with banks, insurance companies, private banks and securities firms.

The group in Asia is 10-12 strong, centralised out of Hong Kong. These are existing staff within its regional sales team that are now focusing full-time on covering gatekeepers, to the exclusion of other sales duties.

“What we are trying to do is align certain people within our local sales teams to be 100% focused on covering gatekeepers. Others will be 100% focused on other sales functions,” says Laskowitz.

He says he sees this initiative as a continuation of the firm's market outreach programme, which saw it launch a markets insights programme, as reported. This programme eventually won an AsianInvestor award in our Best Investor Education category.

JP Morgan AM estimates that intermediary business through its mutual funds across the region accounts for 60% of its $132 billion in Asia Pacific AUM, which itself is 8.8% of its $1.5 trillion globally.

“Intermediary clients are increasingly looking for solutions that match their own investment and market outlook as well as what their clients are looking for,” adds Laskowitz.

“Product priorities, due diligence and investment themes are being driven much more globally, then regionally and locally. [Spence] will help us align around that, as opposed to in the past, where almost our sole emphasis was on the local relationship.”

The group is a team in development, and Spence confirms he will be seeking to add more staff: “We have resources on the ground that have been attached to the strategy for more than a year. But really we are building the team from here.”

He also notes that distributors are aligning themselves and making decisions on a more global and regional basis than in the past.

“So we need to be aligned in the same way,” he adds. “If we can better understand what their needs are and we can align our resources with the broad platform we have, then we will be successful with them.”

Roger Bacon, head of managed investments for Asia Pacific at Citi Private Bank, is quoted in JP Morgan’s press release of Spence’s appointment as saying: “Institutional connectivity with our investment management partners is key to help us deliver the best market insights and investment solutions to our clients.”

A JP Morgan spokesman notes that the firm has around 1,400 staff in the Asia region, of which 240 are currently working in sales. On the investment side he notes that nine people will be added to the team this year, taking its total to 198.

Spence joined JP Morgan AM’s global liquidity team for Asia Pacific in 2004. He took it over in 2007, building a platform of domestic currency money-market funds across Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney and Shanghai.

JP Morgan AM says he and his team were instrumental in the firm being awarded a licence to distribute local mutual funds to institutional investors in China.

Spence will be replaced in his former role by Paula Stibbe, who is due to relocate from New York to Hong Kong “at the beginning of 2014”, confirms a spokesman.