Mercer poaches Janet Li from rival Willis Towers Watson

Li has joined the US consultancy firm from Willis Towers Watson, and will have expanded coverage in her new capacity.
Mercer poaches Janet Li from rival Willis Towers Watson

Mercer has hired Janet Li from rival Willis Towers Watson (WTW), after several investment business heads exited from the former last year in the aftermath of a group-wide shakeup, AsianInvestor can reveal.

Starting January 2, Li became the Asia wealth business leader at Mercer. In her new role, which is newly created, Li is leading the firm's wealth advisory team across South and East Asia. That gives her more responsibilities than she possessed, both in terms of consulting work and geographies.

Li was formerly Willis Towers Watson's director of investments for Greater China. She left the UK-based firm in late October after a 16-year career there, and had been on garden leave ever since.

In her new job Li reports to Lisa Sun, Mercer's chief executive and zone leader for South and East Asia. Both are based in Hong Kong, a Singapore-based spokeswoman at Mercer told AsianInvestor. Li herself has three direct reports, who in turn have multiple individuals reporting to them at the country level, the spokeswoman said.

As part of her new duties Li will be responsible for expanding Mercer’s consultancy and discretionary management services in Asia, as well as seeking out business opportunities in Asia’s pension market, according to a person familiar with the situation.

“There are a lot of opportunities in the whole region and not just China, as many pensions are evolving across Asia,’ the person said.

AsianInvestor first reported the news that Li was leaving WTW in late October 2017. The company told AsianInvestor in November that Jayne Bok, head of investments for Asia and head of the Asia client consulting team, would continue to lead and work with their investment team on all client responsibilities.

WTW is believed to not be seeking a replacement for Li, the person familiar with the situation said. The consultancy did not reply to AsianInvestor’s query for confirmation of the arrangement by press time.

Consulting constraints

Mercer, which advises numerous institutional investors and wealth managers, merged its investment and retirement divisions into the newly named wealth business in January 2017.

The firm told told AsianInvestor in May last year that the restructuring was meant to simplify its "matrix structure", by eliminating several senior roles at both the market business leader and regional business leader level. Instead, individuals working for business lines in the merged division report into their local wealth leader.

Mercer is not the only firm to conduct major restructurings. Investment consultancies across the world have come under pressure as a result of asset owners squeezing their margins, which has led them to cut back on resources. This has been especially evident in Asia, a region in which there is less of a tradition of hiring consultants to advise on ongoing asset allocations and strategies.

In Asia, the restructuring of Mercer led to the departures of executives including Deborah Bannon and Soon Kian Lee, heads of the North and Southeast Asia investment businesses, respectively; Simon Coxeter, a Singapore-based principal overseeing multi-asset strategies; Jeff Schutes. Bannon and Soon have not been directly replaced. WTW has seen its fair share of senior Asia staff depart as well.

These consultant shakeups come in a tough climate for buyside firms. Several global asset and wealth managers have also cut back in Asia or completed mergers with a view to improving their cost-efficiency.

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