Noble Investments, a Zurich-based boutique manager of structured products and hedge funds with $1 billion of assets is applying for an investment advisory licence from Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission in order to start business here.

The firm has just hired Stewart Aldcroft as regional director and he will oversee a small team of four people in Hong Kong and one in Shanghai to develop a distribution and client base.

Aldcroft is a longstanding member of the Hong Kong funds industry, having worked in the Territory since arriving with Schroder Investment Management in 1985. His resume includes business development at HSBC Asset Management, Franklin Templeton and Investec, as well as a brief stint on the distribution side at Standard Chartered Bank. He left Investec in 2003 to take a break, but could not resist the itch and has left his quasi-retirement to join Noble.

"I wasn't keen on returning to the traditional fund management business," he says. "But Noble's way is an interesting way forward, because we can structure a product to suit different types of clients and distributors."

Noble does not actually manage portfolios, rather it packages them, often under a white label, using expertise from underlying fund managers such as AIG or Barclays Global Investors, or indexed hedge funds from Chicago-based HFR. Most of its offerings are capital-protected structures using multi-currency strategies or HFR's index funds. It caters mainly to private banks and high-net worth individuals.

For Noble this represents a sort of homecoming, for it is an arm of Hong Kong-based and Singapore-listed Noble Group, the commodities trading and shipping company. A former commodities trader in Zurich founded the investment firm five years ago and the great majority of its assets are from European clients.

But with Asian roots, it was only a matter of time before Noble Investments moved to establish a physical presence in the region. It already provides some structured products form offshore to clients in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, but needs the SFC licence to approach Hong Kong prospects.