OppenheimerFunds, a $150 billion asset management company based in New York City, has just opened its first non-US office in Hong Kong, where it intends to break into the mutual fund business.

Lavin Mok, its Asian managing director, established the office last year and has just overseen the registration of 11 of its US funds with Hong Kong authorities. Mok was previously head of retail sales at Invesco, and also served as marketing manager at AXA Asset Management.

The firm was established in 1960 and now says it is America's eighth-largest mutual funds company. In 2000 its management decided to move away from being a domestic mutual funds company and become a full-fledged asset management firm. Since then it has established a US institutional business and introduced products aimed at high-net worth individuals, and is now forging an international presence.

Hong Kong is its first office, and OppenheimerFunds hopes to have a European office established by the end of the year, probably in London, Mok says.

A key factor to making the expansion now possible was the growth of MassMutual Financial Group, its parent. The Springfield, Massachusetts-based organization has a life insurance business in Hong Kong as well as Taiwan and Japan. "We want to put our funds into their insurance-linked investment products," Mok says.

Mok is also in talks with local banks about getting on their shelves, and is overseeing an advertising campaign to introduce OppenheimerFunds' name to the retail market.

MassMutual is also a master trustee for the Mandatory Provident Fund scheme, and OppenheimerFunds would like to act as one of its investment managers - but not until it establishes a viable cash retail business, Mok says. Similarly, while OppenheimerFunds will explore opportunities in Singapore and Taiwan, it will focus its energies for now on Hong Kong.

Working with the parent also saves on costs; OppenheimerFunds is employing Mok and two other people in Hong Kong sales and marketing, but levers off MassMutual for its back office, IT, finance and accounting.

The firm decided last year to debut in Hong Kong because the territory boasts an established funds industry, reasonable regulation and good infrastructure. It is also close to China, which is a long-term goal.