Manulife Investment Management has appointed Ernest Yeung as its managing director for wealth and asset management in China, AsianInvestor can reveal.

In an internal memo seen by AsianInvestor, Manulife IM described China as a "must-win battlefield" for its wealth and asset management (WAM) business, with Yeung being appointed to help in "spearheading all facets of [Manulife IM's] WAM business in the market". This includes its institutional, retail and retirement business lines, as well as its China joint venture Manulife Teda Fund Management. 

The memo, which was written by James Chen, Manulife IM's head of institutional business for Asia and head of wealth and asset management for North Asia ex Japan, noted that Yeung would report to him. A spokesman added that the role was newly created, primarily based in Hong Kong, and that Yeung had begun on June 3. 

Manulife IM is the global asset management arm of Canadian life insurer Manulife. Last month, the Canadian group unified its institutional, retail and retirement wealth and asset management businesses around the world under the brand Manulife Investment Management. It replaces Manulife Asset Management in Asia and Europe, as well as two other business brands in Canada and the US. 

Yeung has joined from Changsheng Fund Management, a DBS joint venture in China, where he was the Beijing-based deputy general manager and responsible officer for the past 12 years. Changsheng Fund Management did not immediately reply to AsianInvestor’s query about his departure.

CHINA STRATEGY

The spokesman declined to state how much in assets under management Manulife IM oversees in China. But what is evident is that Manulife has been increasingly eager to develop its asset management business in the country. 

It made some particularly large strides to expand in 2017. In March of that year it became the first financial institution to gain approval to set up an investment management wholly foreign-owned enterprise (WFOE) in Shanghai and moved its China institutional sales team from Hong Kong to the new unit.

The WFOE has since gained a Qualified Domestic Limited Partnership (QDLP) licence, which means it can raise assets from institutional investors and sophisticated high net worth investors onshore and invest them in offshore markets. Manulife IM operates locally managed funds through its Manulife-Teda joint-venture, the spokesman told AsianInvestor.

In May 2017, the then-named Manulife AM signed an investment partnership with China Life, the first such tie-up between China's biggest life insurer and a global financial institution. The alliance is designed to give Manulife IM access to the insurer's expertise and resources to make onshore investments, and to help China Life invest its general account assets overseas.

Later in the same year Manulife inked a distribution tie-up with Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), which it is trying to use to tap into the individual retirement savings market.  

Manulife IM's parent insurer has also said it is open to opportunities for setting up a new insurance unit in China after the country relaxed ownership rules for foreign institutions. It currently has a joint-venture called Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance, which was the first such Sino-foreign alliance in the country's insurance industry.