Nikko Asset Management has lost a team of four Asian equity specialists based in Singapore, AsianInvestor can confirm. It is understood they are moving to UK fund house Threadneedle.

The most senior is chief investment officer Ng Soo-nam, who is working out his notice and will leave by the end of this month. The three others are portfolio managers Christine Seng and Liang Weixiong and analyst Low Wee Jia, who are all working on a similar timeframe.

Nikko AM confirms that Winson Fong, who joined the firm in July as head of China strategies, will take over Ng’s portfolios.

On a separate but related note, Nikko AM has just signed an exclusive memorandum of understanding (MoU) to acquire a Singapore-based Asian equities boutique.

This includes a team of seven investment professionals, although these are not replacements and Nikko AM is still seeking to replace its departing quartet. The target firm also includes a number of mid- and back-office support staff.

The boutique, details of which remain undisclosed, chiefly serves international (ex-Singapore) institutional investors. The deal is expected to close by the end of this month, subject to due diligence and regulatory approvals.

Nikko AM’s Asian equity team was 12-strong prior to the exits. Its existing book of business is mostly Singapore-based, and features a retail funds offering and local institutional mandates.

Wang Yu-Ming, who was appointed international CIO for Nikko AM based in Japan this January, will be spending more of his time in Singapore to oversee the transition.

He tells AsianInvestor the firm is looking to replace those who have departed. “I now need to recruit staff with research and portfolio responsibility given our departing team members,” he says. “We need to find some replacements.”

He stresses that his remit has always been to enhance Nikko AM’s Asian investments team, and that he is looking for senior and intermediate portfolio managers and seasoned analysts.

On the acquisition, he confirms the boutique is a licenced entity with a book of business. He says its institutional product will compliment Nikko AM’s existing regional, country-focused and thematic funds.

“It takes what we do well beyond Asia from a client standpoint, and also further expands our product capabilities to the large global institutional client base that currently we do not serve," adds Wang. "Exporting some of our investment capability to other Asian institutions, as well as outside of Asia, has always been our mission.”

Wang declines to identify the target, the size of its book or the potential cost of acquisition due to confidentiality agreements. “These are all very recent developments,” he adds.

“We have been looking at [the boutique target] and talking to them for a period of time. I have been tasked with augmenting our equity capability. We have seen a lot of firms and individuals and done a lot of searches.”

Asked who would replace Ng as CIO, Wang says Nikko AM is weighing up its options. He confirms the boutique target has a CIO who has presided since the firm was founded.

“Who ends up running this really depends on final candidates,” he says. “We are evaluating the right structure to lead the business. This deal is not consummated yet. Part of the work ahead of me is due diligence as well as working out the organisational structure and business model going forward.”

Nikko AM is an acquisitive house. In an interview last year, the incoming global chairman and CEO Charles Beazley confirmed he was intent on acquisitions in Asia.

Its prominent purchases have included Tyndall Investments in Australia and New Zealand and DBS Asset Management in Singapore and Hong Kong. It has also bought and inherited stakes in other businesses and has a number of joint ventures in Asia.

The DBS acquisition bequeathed an eight-strong corporate credit team, fuelling Nikko AM’s ambition to launch Asian and emerging markets fixed income products out of Singapore. The head of its fixed income team is Koh Liang Choon.

Nikko AM’s global AUM stood at $156 billion as at the end of June this year.

Only recently, Threadneedle’s global CEO Campbell Fleming confirmed that it aimed to grow in Asia organically and was looking to introduce Asian equities expertise to the region.

A Threadneedle spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.