MetLife Investments Asia (MIA) has hired Lesley Lo as institutional sales director for Asia ex-Japan as it continues to build out its asset management business, following the recent award of an asset management licence to its operating firm MetLife Investment Management (IM).

Lo's switch from BNP Paribas Asset Management, where she was director for institutional business development, comes at a time when her French-owned former employer is itself hiring new faces.

MetLife is the latest in a growing line of international firms hoping to capitalise on the Asia-Pacific region’s growing interest in alternative investments such as private debt, infrastructure, and real estate.

Hong Kong-based Lo will be responsible for expanding MetLife’s existing relationships with institutional clients and building its asset management business in Asia, with a primary focus initially on the local market, a spokeswoman told AsianInvestor.

Over time, Lo’s efforts will also focus on other key Asian markets, a statement from the company said.

At BNP Paribas AM in her last role her remit included coverage of insurance firms and endowments across the region. Following Lo’s departure, Owen Chin, senior vice president for institutional sales, will take on her responsibilities, a spokesman for BNP Paribas AM told AsianInvestor. The company also made further changes to its team.

MetLife IM was granted a licence by the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission in February to trade securities and provide investment advisory and asset management services to Hong Kong-based institutional clients, AsianInvestor reported.

The firm, which is part of US insurer Metlife, has previously said that it expects to see demand from Hong Kong institutional investors for long-term private asset investment opportunities, particularly dollar-denominated investments in private placements of corporate and infrastructure debt and commercial mortgages.

In the search for higher yields, institutional investor demand for alternatives such as private debt has climbed in recent years.

HSBC Insurance’s Hong Kong unit is one such investor: chief investment officer William Chan recently told AsianInvestor that the firm is particularly interested in private debt and infrastructure (both debt and equity) and would look to add exposure to the alternatives space when it found suitable opportunities.

Pension funds in South Korea and China are also increasingly seeking to invest in the riskier portions of private debt assets.

The backdrop of growing interest in the overall alternatives space has led to specialist investment firms setting up shop in the region over the past 18 months to cater for such demand.

Adam Street Partners, a Chicago-based private markets investment firms with $31 billion in assets under management, set up office in Seoul in December, while another US-based corporate credit manager, Muzinich& Co, unveiled its Singapore office – its first in Asia – in June 2017.

BNP CHANGES

Aside from asking Chin to assume the departing Lo's responsibilities, BNP Paribas AM has recently made some changes to its institutional clients team.

It hired Hong Kong-based Rick Wei from MetLife in January as an insurance specialist – a first for the asset manager in the region, the spokesman told AsianInvestor.

Seoul-based Brian Kim also joined BNP Paribas AM in April as director of institutional sales for Korea. Kim was previously head of fund sales for Korea at JP Morgan Asset Management, which announced it was shutting down its fund management business in the country last year.

BNP Paribas AM's Korea team continues to be led by Seoul-based Paul Park, head of Korea business development, the spokesman said.

Another recent hire is Hong Kong-based Ross Lu, a former vice president at BlackRock who joined as head of institutional sales for China.

The Chinese operation at BNP Paribas AM initially had an onshore relationship management team and an offshore sales team, which have now been consolidated under Lu, the spokesman said. Both teams earlier reported to the former head of Greater China business, TF Cheng, who left the firm in April 2017. 

BNP Paribas AM's institutional team is headed by Singapore-based Mark Speciale, head of institutional sales Asia Pacific, who joined the asset manager last year in June. 

BlackRock did not immediately respond to AsianInvestor queries on whether a replacement had been named for Lu.