Manulife Vietnam Fund Management Company is among the latest to test the waters in VietnamÆs nascent fund industry.

In July, the company launched the Manulife Progressive Fund. That was only the third closed-end, retail mutual fund to be offered in Vietnam and is expected to be listed in December. The fund didnÆt quite meet the fund size the company was aiming for, raising only VND215 billion ($13.6 million) or just 85% of the target.

But for David Wong, general manager at Manulife Vietnam, that was a good enough start. Manulife started in Vietnam as a pure life operation eight years ago, and the fund company unit was formed in 2005. Initially, the fund company was formed to manage ManulifeÆs life assets, which amounts to around $220 million now.

ôIn 2006, we saw the changes in the stock market and the changes in the society, especially among the middle class. People were investing more, especially in the stock market and in real estate,ö says Ho Chi Minh City-based Wong. ôWe felt that it was a good time to start our own retail mutual fund.ö

Since mutual funds are such a new concept in Vietnam, Wong says he isnÆt disappointed that the Manulife VietnamÆs first offering wasnÆt fully subscribed.

ôRetail investors in Vietnam still need a lot of education. We need to explain to them the difference between investing in stocks and mutual funds and explain to them the benefits of investing in a mutual fund,ö he says.

As one of the first movers in VietnamÆs fund management industry, Manulife Vietnam is among the companies that have taken on the ôhuge responsibilityö of investor education, Wong notes.

ôVietnam is a young market. Retail investors are unaware of the other products
that could be available to them,ö says Mark Canizares, Ho Chi Minh City-based investment director at Manulife Vietnam and manager of its first mutual fund.

ôWe have gone around the country to talk about the fund and mutual funds in general and you can see from the type of questions they ask that many of them are generally not yet ready to embrace investing in funds. Some were asking who would get the fund when they die, clearly mistaking the fund to be some kind of an insurance product,ö he adds.

Wong says Manulife VietnamÆs fund is the companyÆs means of gaining experience in the local market.

ôWe had to start somewhere,ö he says. ôWe need to get the experience, learn the process, and study the investment behaviour of retail investors.ö

Manulife Vietnam has no immediate plans to launch another retail fund, and in the event that it does, it will likely be a sector-specific fund such as an infrastructure portfolio, Wong says.

The company is in talks with other fund management companies outside Vietnam for potential third-party fund management, and this is something Wong is keen on pursuing. He declined to elaborate as talks are ongoing.

ôWe have a local team here in Vietnam with local investment expertise. We know the rules and regulations. We have the backing of a global and regional discipline,ö Wong says. ôWe think we are in the position to manage third party funds and offshore funds.ö

Manulife Vietnam has six investment professionals, including Canizares. Wong says there are plans to expand the team, but he declined to give more details such as the number of new hires he expects or a timeframe for expansion.