In a move to step up its commitment to servicing Asian hedge strategies, Merrill Lynch yesterday announced the addition of two senior hires to its Asian equity finance team.

Joining Merrill to lead its prime brokerage sales and marketing effort in the region is Harvey Twomey, who will be based in Hong Kong. Twomey joins from HSBC Bank of Bermuda's global fund services group where he was regional director of sales based in London. Prior to that he was with the Misys group in Hong Kong, building up the firm's securities and trading platform. Twomey will report regionally to Craig Mason, head of Pacific Rim prime brokerage.

Brian Canniffe joins as director of stock lending/swaps team business in Tokyo. He reports regionally to Melvyn Ford, Merrill's head of Pacific Rim stock lending. Caniffe was previously regional head of equity finance trading for Nomura.

"Expanding our equity finance franchise is one of the firm's top three global priorities," says Craig Mason. "Although we have a strong franchise globally, it's no secret that Merrill has not executed its prime brokerage strategy in the region as fully as it could have."

Melyvn Ford adds that Merrill has a strong inventory of Asian stocks, which is currently being underutilized. "The best way to begin addressing this is to increasing our market presence through key hires," he explains.

The new equity finance appointments follow on shortly from a slew of hires the firm announced last week in its Asian research and equity sales teams (see related stories).

Prime brokerage services in Asia have historically been dominated by a Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley duopoly. However, the recent boom in Asian hedge fund start-ups and the increasing number of global hedge funds investing in the Asian region and setting up operations here has prompted a number of global investment banks to step up their prime brokerage presence on the ground in Asia.