PineBridge Investments’ head of retail and intermediary channels for Hong Kong and Singapore has left the firm, with market participants suggesting the move signals a pullback from that business.

The former asset-management arm of US insurer AIG is now focusing on selling its range of traditional and alternative funds to institutions and private banks in the region, say sources.

A spokeswoman confirmed Linda Luk’s departure, but declined to say when she left or whether she would be replaced. “However, this does not reflect a material change in strategy for PineBridge in Asia,” she adds. “The region is a core growth market, which we are absolutely committed to and are investing in.”

AsianInvestor could not ascertain Luk’s next destination by press time, if any, and her LinkedIn page says she is still at PineBridge.

She took up the Hong Kong-based role in June 2008 and was responsible for asset raising across Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia. She had sold mutual funds, private-equity products and hedge funds of funds to consumer and private banks, insurance firms, fund-of-fund managers and IFAs.

Before joining PineBridge, Luk was head of sales for Greater China at Henderson Global Investors since February 2005 – a role in which she also focused on retail and intermediary business. She has also been head of mutual fund sales and distribution at Principal Asset Management in Hong Kong.

Headhunters note that times are tough for asset managers and that many are finding it hard to expand in Asia.

“[Fund houses] always vacillate when they set up here between retail or institutional business,” says a Hong Kong-based recruiter when asked about the implications of Luk's departure. That makes it tough to put the right salespeople in place, because the two segments require completely different skill sets, with the institutional specialists usually unwilling to cover retail, and vice versa.

In good times firms tend to target institutions because they want long-term, stable capital, adds the unnamed recruiter. “But in a more difficult environment, it can be easier to build up on the retail side if you already have global relationships approved with bank distributors.”

Yet since the financial crisis in 2008, it’s proved a lot tougher to get on consumer and private bank platforms, because they and their clients are less inclined to buy funds. A handful of asset managers tend to get the lion’s share of the business, as noted in a recent AsianInvestor article.

Luk's departure aside, PineBridge has made moves in the past year that suggest a strong continued commitment to the region. It hired the former Asia-Pacific CEO of BNY Mellon's asset-management business, David Jiang, as global CEO in March. And last year the firm moved global head of equities Robin Thorn to Hong Kong and brought in Desmond Tjiang from BNP Paribas Investment Partners and Anita Varga from ING Investment Management.

Of PineBridge's $67 billion in assets globally (as of March 31), some 20% originate in Asia.