Canada’s Manulife Asset Management has appointed its first global head of environmental, social and corporate governance research and integration and located her in Hong Kong, reflecting a growing trend among institutional investors in Asia to focus on ESG factors.

Emily Chew, formerly Asia-Pacific head of ESG research at index provider MSCI, took up the role last month. She reports to Peter Mennie, London-based global head of investment risk and quantitative analytics. Frederick Isleib, an ESG analyst based in Boston who joined in August last year, reports to Chew.

Her appointment comes after Manulife AM became a signatory last year to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), a global agency that promotes ESG principles. Chew is one of the members of the UNPRI's listed equities outreach subcommittee.

Chew will engage with the firm’s investee companies to discuss ESG issues, report on conclusions to portfolio managers and articulate its ESG approach to clients. She is responsible for global oversight of ESG research for the Canadian firm, which had $334 billion under management as of June 30.

Before joining the Canadian group, Chew spent five years in Beijing and Hong Kong with MSCI, which is seeking a replacement.

Manulife AM declined to comment further on why it had created the new role.

ESG focus rising

A small but gradually rising number of asset owners in Asia is encouraging external managers to consider sustainable growth factors in their public equity allocations, led by Japan’s $1.2 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF).

GPIF, the world’s largest pension fund, upgraded its internal ESG group to a new division – named ‘stewardship and ESG’ – under its public market investment department on October 1.

The fund is setting an example for asset owners in Japan and the wider region to add focus more on ESG in their investments, having also become a UNPRI signatory in November last year.

GPIF intends to monitor and encourage its external managers’ engagement on ESG factors, with a view to them fostering corporate values and sustainable growth within their portfolio companies. In August the fund invited pitches from index providers to manufacture Japanese stock indices that take ESG factors into account.

Other large Asian asset owners – such as Korea’s National Pension Service and Taiwan’s Bureau of Labor Funds – are also making moves in this direction, as reported.