Boston-based MFS Investment Management hired Sharon Lee on March 1 in the newly created post of Singapore-based director of sales.

Reporting to senior managing director for Asia ex-Japan Thomas Jessee, Lee will be responsible for mutual-fund sales exclusively for the Singapore retail market, previously looked after by Jessee.

Lee moved from Merrill Lynch International, where she had worked for 10 years, most recently as Singapore-based vice-president for structured and alternative investments in Asia-Pacific.

She completes a trio of sales executives covering Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. Until the end of 2008, Emily Chi had run MFS's retail sales for the whole of Asia ex-Japan, but when Jessee transferred to Singapore in January 2009, Chi relocated to run sales in her native Taiwan (though she grew up in the US), and Francis Wong joined in the same post in Hong Kong.

"Part of my reason for moving here was to build out the distribution group," says Jessee, who oversees the three retail markets alongside Jonathan Tiu, who in turn oversees institutional sales for Asia ex-Japan.

The main retail focus in Singapore is on the high-net-worth segment; MFS's funds are registered as restricted in the city-state at present, which means they can only be sold to high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs).

In terms of assets under management, the breakdown in Asia is roughly 50/50 between the institutional and retail side, with a slight tilt towards the former, as that's where the greater sales focus has been. But Jessee sees that breakdown levelling out, as more HNW assets flow in. 

"We're very strong on the retail side," he says, "but not so well known out here, we have some brand-building to do." Longer term, Jessee envisages MFS expanding beyond the private-wealth segment.

In Singapore, MFS now has a sales team of three and 13 on the investment side -- 10 analysts and portfolio managers, and three support staff. There are no investment staff in Taiwan, and the same goes for Hong Kong at present, but Jessee plans to have investment executives in Hong Kong in future, once the right individual becomes available. The company also has investment officers in Australia and Japan.

In terms of products, MFS's top seller in Asia is its emerging-market debt strategy, which it offers in both local and hard currency. But clients also like the firm's global equity fund, and there is potential for a wider variety of MFS products to sell well, says Jessee, as the manager has 36 funds registered in Luxembourg, all of which are available to HNWIs in Singapore.

Some have noted increasing regional interest in Asia-specific debt, and Jessee agrees there is a lot of local interest in Asian product. "People haven't specifically asked if we have an Asian bond fund," he says, "but I get the feeling that if we could create one and manage it well, there'd be strong appetite for it."

MFS manages $197.1 billion on behalf of individual and institutional investors worldwide, as of April 30 and the firm has investment offices in Boston, London, Mexico City, Singapore, Sydney, and Tokyo.