UK-based Martin Currie Investment Management has been seeking retail distribution partnerships in Hong Kong and is set to sign a deal. And, following two recent hires at its head office in Scotland, the company also plans to hire more analysts and establish a dealing team in Singapore over the next five years.
"We're very optimistic about the level of interest in the strategies we will be making available to Asian investors, and deals are imminent," said Kimon Kouryialas, Melbourne-based country head for Australia at Martin Currie, on a visit to Hong Kong this week.
As for further regional expansion, Chen Ee Fang, Asia business development director, is the firm's only Singapore hire at present, and that will remain the case until it has assessed business opportunities over the next two years.
However, by 2014, it is likely to have a number of analysts based in Asia, said Kouryialas. He added that he could envisage the hire of a distribution executive in Hong Kong at some point to join Brian Canavan, the firm's senior analyst there.
Martin Currie is also reviewing plans to look at implementing a dealing team in Singapore in the coming years. "If you do that, the office automatically goes from one person to seven," he says, citing the need to also hire compliance staff, IT staff and so on. "But we're in no hurry."
With regard to taking on further retail distribution partners, the company has "four to six" such relationships. "But we don't want to go full [direct-sale] retail," Kouryialas says, adding that Martin Currie's retail strategy of selling through intermediaries will not change.
"What we do want to do is make sure we have just a few [distribution] relationships in the marketplace, but deeper relationships," says Kouryialas. The strategies the firm sells tend to be its Asia ex-Japan, China and global resources products.
Chen says taking a long-term view is very important with regard to fund distribution in Asia -- such as with regard to ensuring distributor interests are aligned with those of both customers and fund providers.
How much it costs to be on the shelf of a distributor is one thing to consider, he adds, but fund managers also need to look at how a distributor approaches the end-customer. "It's about how well the message is being communicated about you through your retail distributors," says Chen.
"Obviously here [in Asia], the interest is not necessarily aligned with the long-term interests of either the investors or the fund providers," he adds. "It's more around capturing the easy sell. So you tend to see high turnover in retail assets from one fund to another."
But it's important to have "longevity", he says. "You don't want to get into a situation where you can't grow on a stable asset base."
Meanwhile, Martin Currie recently added two staff, Christine Montgomery and Neil Robson, who will join the global equities team in Edinburgh by the end of the year.
Reporting to chief investment officer and head of global equities James Fairweather, Montgomery will have responsibility for Europe, Australasia and Far East (Eafe) and All Country World Index (Acwi) ex-US mandates, while Robson will manage global strategies.
Montgomery joins Martin Currie from Edinburgh Partners, where she was an investment partner managing segregated institutional accounts totalling $742 million. She has also worked at Franklin Templeton Investments and Aegon Asset Management.
Robson was previously head of global equities at Pioneer Investments where he was responsible for the four equity teams run from the Dublin office, with $17.7 billion in assets under management. His career also includes stints at Baring Asset Management and Citibank.
Martin Currie is a specialist investment management business that manages £12.0 billion ($19.1 billion) in active equity portfolios for a global client base of financial institutions, charities, foundations, endowments, pension funds, family offices, government agencies and investment funds.