Demand for multi-asset strategies has shown no signs of abating in Asia, with investment specialists being poached for big salary increases, according to headhunters, even as fund houses face an increasingly tough environment.

Recruiters cite pay rises of 20-40% for moves made in the past six months. Particularly sought after are individuals with 'solutions' experience – those who can discuss customised mandates with clients rather than simply push existing products.

Building out of multi-asset teams is one of the main hiring trends among fund managers in Asia now, said Jeremy Harris, Hong Kong-based partner at search firm Wellesley Partners.

“Many firms are looking to hire what they call senior product specialists, investment directors or client portfolio managers; people to cover this area as more than just talking heads,” he said. “The trend is for these roles to be driving sales and being out there talking to clients, often times responsible for the P&L [profit and loss] of that whole space.”

Industry observers said recent examples of fund houses seeking multi-asset talent in Asia included Aberdeen, Alliance Bernstein, Franklin Templeton, Invesco and Neuberger Berman.

For instance, Aberdeen hired Irene Goh from Alliance Bernstein as Asia head of multi-asset solutions in May last year to build a team, while Singapore’s Fullerton Fund Management brought in Pranay Gupta as head of multi-asset strategies early last year with the same objective. And such moves are seen to be continuing.

Firms tend to look for individuals with multi-asset experience, said Harris. But if they can't get that, the tendency has been to hire a fixed income product specialist, because it’s seen as easier to get to know equity than fixed income.

Solutions the big focus

Multi-asset solutions is a particularly hot area, with firms increasingly looking to tailor bespoke portfolios for clients rather than simply push existing products, said Stanley Teo, Singapore-based director at search firm Profile Group.

This could entail fund houses building solutions using internal resources, by collaborating with in-house colleagues across teams, or by developing ideas using external providers such as banks, he noted.

Harris confirmed: “Everyone’s talking about solutions. Rather than going out there with a ‘me too’ product, they are looking to develop customised solutions.

In addition, he noted, asset management and servicing firms such as Northern Trust or State Street see themselves as well positioned for solutions because they have the back-end capabilities – such as asset servicing and custody – and thus are better suited front-to-back solutions than pure fund houses.

Fabrice Chemouny, global head of institutional sales at Natixis Global Asset Management, confirmed the a trend in Asia, saying: “Fund managers are increasingly working on tailored solutions for institutions rather than simply trying to promote funds.”

Most institutions in the region are not familiar with managing multi-asset portfolios, so they tend to outsource these investments, Chemouny told AsianInvestor. Morevoer, in the past they focused only on performance, he noted – now they have a better understanding of the importance of risk management.

Teo agreed that asset owners were keen to tap such expertise. “Clients are starting to talk fund managers’ language when it comes to multi-asset,” he said, “so if you don’t have good product specialists, you will fall behind.”

Overseas opportunities

It's always been tough to find this sort of talent, Teo noted. “Obviously it’s a more mature market in Europe and the US, so Asia will always be playing catch-up in terms of talent population.”

As a result, if they can’t find talent locally, added Teo, some fund houses are looking to either transfer individuals from their own teams in Europe or the US, or hire staff from other firms in those locations. After searching for six months, they might well look to do this, he said.

However, Harris said that relocating staff from Europe or the US is not common for product specialists but more so than for sales staff, who tend to need the local language skills these days.