Principal International has hired John Woo as head of sales and marketing for Hong Kong. Woo previously served at Manulife, where he had served under business development director John Spence.

He has also worked at AIG and Watson Wyatt. He now works in Hong Kong for Rex Auyeung, managing director at CEO for Asia at the firm's asset management arm, Principal Global Investors. His brief is to go after the institutional pension market (known as Orso plans, for the Occupational Retirement Schemes Ordinance).

"Orso is our focus for 2006," says Auyeng, although the firm continues to compete for business in the five-year old Mandatory Provident Fund space. "Larger companies with Orso schemes have more experience and are in a better position to decide what they really need."

With MPF now five years old, many big companies with both MPF and Orso schemes are reviewing their pension structures. "This is the time for larger employer groups to make changes to their defined-benefit or defined-contribution structures," Auyeng says, noting that these schemes are finally in the black again after suffering in the three bear-market years of 2000-2002.

Auyeng adds that in conjunction with this marketing effort, Principal Global Investors will step up marketing for its mutual funds business. It now distributes product through banks such as DBS and Bank of China (HK), and it wants to grow this business, both from retail investors as well as from local institutions.

Hiring Woo fills a major position for Principal that has been open for three years. It was last run by Ian Simmons in Singapore, who had joint responsibility for marketing for the pensions business of Principal International as well as the asset management business for Principal Global Investors.

He left three years ago and his job was split, with Hazel McNeilage taking the asset management work but no one filling the pensions marketing side. McNeilage recently rotated to New York and was replaced by Kirk West, who moved from Australia to Singapore.