News on the RFP front might be slowing as the end of the year approaches, but the mandate fight in Asia is set to become a lot more entertaining to watch as one formidable US active manager steps up its game to compete in the region.

American Century Investments, a privately owned asset management house with close to $80 billion of assets under management, this month named Miranda Poon as its new director for business development in Asia. She brings with her a strong list of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan institutional contacts and a track record of launching foreign boutique brands into the Asian institutional market. Her sales career spans two decades.

Poon started her career in asset management under the tutelage of Mark Konyn at Dresdner RCM in the 1990s. After Dresdner, she was investment director for business development at Standard Life Investments between 2001 and 2006, before moving to Pictet as a vice-president for business development for Asia ex-Japan in 2006.

At American Century, Poon will report to Tony Archer, business head for Asia-Pacific. Archer left his old job as head of Asia-Pacific at Morgan Stanley Investment Management earlier this year to set up American Century's first Asian office in May. He was handpicked for the role by former MSIM boss Michael Green, now American Century's senior vice-president in charge of international business in London.

American Century's Asian team will report to the London office, while back-office and operations work will be routed to the firm's headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. There are no regional products on the roster yet; Archer and Poon will focus on promoting the company's strength in global growth and US growth equities to Asian institutional and wholesale clients.

According to Mercer's ranking for five-year performance in global equity to the end of 2008, American Century's global growth strategy came eighth globally in the "medium" category. In the three-year category, the firm ranked 12th and 16th for its global growth and core global growth strategies. The company was named the best large mutual fund company in the US by data provider Lipper last year.

The stellar numbers have not gone unnoticed among the region's institutional competitors. Sources at competing firms say American Century's products could be a credible threat in the coming rounds of RFPs and are eyeing the firm's moves closely. In particular, the company is also seen as a testing ground for the market appeal of socially responsible investments among Asian clients, as its business model dictates that 40% of its annual profit goes to funding research for genetic diseases.

Archer, best remembered for spearheading Morgan Stanley's QFII fund in China and cementing Morgan Stanley's strategic partnership deal with South Korea's National Pension Service while at MSIM, has already snapped up a client from Australia earlier this month. Zurich Financial in Australia has mandated American Century as its manager for global growth equities on its multi-manager platform.

American Century only began expanding its salesforce outside the US last year with the opening of its London office, in a bid to ensure continuity in its income growth. Aside from its base in Missouri, it also maintains investment offices in New York and Mountain View in California.

Under chief investment officer Enrique Chang the company maintains five key investment disciplines. These include $18.9 billion invested in US growth equity, $6.6 billion in quantitative equity, $13.1 billion in US value equity, $6.8 billion in global and non-US equity and $24.7 billion in fixed income. The company also maintains an asset-allocation team that manages $3.4 billion in assets. Asset figures are as of June 30, 2009.