PGI hires former MAS director as SE Asia chief

Principal Global Investors has appointed Celestine Khoo to drive its institutional business in the region. She was formerly head of external fund management at Singapore's central bank.
PGI hires former MAS director as SE Asia chief

US asset manager Principal Global Investors has appointed former Monetary Authority of Singapore director Celestine Khoo as its new Southeast Asia chief executive officer.

Khoo, who worked at Singapore's central bank for 17 years including as head of external fund management within its reserves management department, is based in Singapore and reports to PGI's Asia chief executive officer Kirk West.

Speaking to AsianInvestor, Khoo said her focus would be on building PGI's institutional business, given her experience at MAS, where she was involved in asset allocation as well as manager selection.

Her remit at PGI also covers fund distribution centred on private banks in the city-state. She said PGI had chosen to focus on the high-net-worth market given its model as a multi-manager and track record in managing institutional assets in Asia.

PGI will continue to work with its joint venture partner CIMB Group on a sub-advisory basis. It has no plans to go onshore on its own, as in effect it penetrates the Southeast Asian wholesale market through CIMB, which has operations in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Khoo noted that the Asean fund passporting initiative – to which Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are signatories – was a medium-term business for the firm. Its partner CIMB has passported two funds to Singapore: an Asean equity fund and an Asian equity fund.

But she admitted that flows had been very modest, with less than $100 million in both products. Prior to MAS, Khoo held senior investment banking roles at UBS and DBS Bank. MAS declined to comment when asked who would replace Khoo.

Separately, PGI revealed it had made headway in its application for a wholly foreign-owned enterprise licence (WFOE) in China. It is looking to set up a company offering consultancy services in Beijing called Principal Financial Group, in partnership with Principal International.

Frederick Laydon, chief operations officer for North Asia, told AsianInvestor it was hoping to get its WFOE licence this month. He declined to provide more information on who would head the WFOE.

Further, PGI has applied for two funds to be passported in China via the Hong Kong-China mutual recognition scheme, which it hopes will be approved in March. The plan is for these products to be distributed through its joint-venture partner, China Construction Bank (CCB).

Laydon added it was also working with CCB on a US corporate credit fund on the back of strong interest in the US dollar. That would be distributed under the qualified domestic institutional Investor (QDII) scheme once China lifted the QDII quota freeze. The freeze has been in place since March last year.

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