Manulife Financial has promoted Donna Cotter to head wealth management for Asia to spearhead its regional distribution drive to get more products on private bank and insurance platforms.

While Hong Kong-based Cotter acknowledges that Manulife's distribution push is a global undertaking, she stresses that the opportunities in Asia are extensive.

Cotter reports to Philip Hampden-Smith, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer for Asia.

“We spent the last two-to-three years building strong teams on the ground across Asia. The focus now is really to build the distribution, sales and marketing support,” Cotter tells AsianInvestor. In addition to a 13-strong distribution team in Hong Kong, it has sales executives across all 11 of its Asian offices.

Cotter moved to Hong Kong in January 2010 to oversee regional strategy and product development for Manulife. Before that she worked in Manulife’s Waterloo, Ontario office from 2003, holding roles across divisions including pensions, securities and individual wealth management groups. 

She replaces Chris Bendl, who was made CEO and president director of Manulife Indonesia in December 2012. Cotter's current position has been vacant until now.

Manulife has offices in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. There are no immediate plans for new offices or hires.

Manulife notes that it raised $3 billion in the second quarter from Asian investors alone, a 129% year-on-year increase. It forecasts that this will increase as the number of Asians entering the middle class is tipped to rise to 1.2 billion by 2020.

Cotter stresses that teaching Asian investors about retirement should be a priority, with governments unable to support the swelling number of retirees.

“I think awareness of the issues that investors face is improving, but we’ve a long way to go,” Cotter says. “We still see [investors] with very high cash holdings, which is concerning. 

“People are more aware [of retirement] but don’t know what to do [with their wealth]. That is a focus for us. How do we help customers invest some of that cash to lead up to retirement.”

As of June 30, Manulife oversaw $539 billion in global AUM.