Indexing and investment specialist MSCI has hired Chris Ryan as its new Asia-Pacific head to drive regional growth across its three main business lines, AsianInvestor can confirm.

Ryan started at the firm two weeks ago as a managing director based in Hong Kong. He will spend the next few months gaining a deeper understanding of the business in Asia and globally.

Most recently Ryan worked as chief executive of Australian-listed asset manager Perpetual, a position he held for a year before exiting this February.

Deborah Yang

Ryan comes in to replace Deborah Yang, who is set to transfer to Paris this December in a newly created role to run the firm’s Europe, Middle East and Africa index business, which includes India (EMEAI). She reveals MSCI is moving to have regional heads for index business management.

In another newly created role, Ted Niggli, who was head of MSCI’s European and global business based in London, transferred a month ago to Shanghai to become head of the firm’s index business for Asia Pacific.

Ryan’s role is an extended remit from Yang's, in that he is now responsible for regional business including Australia and Japan, while she had been in charge of Asia ex-Japan and ex-Australia.

Ryan tells AsianInvestor that over the past six months he has been doing some work with family offices, and that conversations with MSCI have been running for several months.

“It has been a very detailed and transparent process, which was pleasing,” he says. “People often do not spend enough time thinking through their own positioning in a company, and I had a full opportunity to do that.”

He notes, too, that he has been a client of MSCI since the 1980s. “But it’s nice to look under the hood,” he adds.  “Also, it will be nice talking to fund managers, but not as a competitor.”

In fact, Ryan was in Shanghai last week with senior management including Niggli. “Hearing what they had to say to institutions and regulators in China was very instructive,” he notes.

While indexing is the largest part of MSCI’s business, it also provides performance risk and performance analytics and governance tools across brands including Barra, RiskMetrics and ISS. It also offers portfolio construction tools, which Ryan says is a business he is excited by.

“With these tools fund managers in Asia can move up to a level of sophistication that perhaps they have had to borrow from overseas managers in the past,” he says. “There is no reason why you can’t run global portfolios from Asia. A lot of managers would like to do that, but not many do.”

He adds that sovereign wealth funds and insurance companies, for example, can use portfolio construction tools to become independent of third-party managers. “They can start to do things for themselves, I think they have been waiting for this for a while.”

Ryan anticipates being able to grow MSCI’s indexing, risk management and portfolio construction operations in the region, with emphasis on the latter two which he says “will become a much larger feature of what we do”.

He confirms, too, that MSCI is looking at expanding its ETF business in Asia and is supporting the development of the renminbi-denominated qualified foreign institutional investor market in Hong Kong. “There is an A-share ETF under development at the moment which we are supporting, which we think is exciting,” he says.

But he sees other opportunities in the ETF market, too. “Despite pessimism in the past even from promoters of ETFs I think over the next five years there are going to be some fundamental differences in the way ETFs are launched, managed and traded in the region,” he states.

“It is all about creating a liquidity pool and I have been in contact with private banks, family offices and traditional investors, everyone wants it to succeed. We are looking for a catalyst and I think that will arrive in the next two years. We see these things being big priorities for MSCI.”

Prior to Perpetual, Ryan took on a part-time role as managing director and senior adviser within the securities and fund services business of Citibank GTS (global transaction services). He spent two years as MD at Fidelity International, and seven as CEO of ING Investment Management.