Hoang Nguyen joined Saigon Asset Management as chief investment officer barely six months ago, but unforeseen family commitments in Switzerland have prevented him from being in Vietnam full time. The Ho Chi Minh City-based firm has hired Michael Kokalari as deputy chief executive and CIO, reporting to chairman and CEO Louis Nguyen.

Hoang Nguyen will continue as a senior advisor, focusing on the launch of the new Smart Money Fund and capital-market products. He will assist with Saigon AM's investor-relations activities in Europe and its cross-border investment-banking activities in Vietnam and Europe.

Having joined Saigon AM on March 15, Kokalari has been in Vietnam for two years as a senior-level advisor for VietFund Management, a joint venture between Dragon Capital and Sacombank. He helped set up VietFund's Vietnam Active Fund (VFA), the country's first publicly listed equity fund entirely using quantitative techniques.

He has 15 years' experience of running credit, equity and fixed-income derivatives portfolios for BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan Chase, Lehman Brothers and WestLB in Frankfurt, London and Tokyo. 

Kokalari had been a temporary advisor to VietFund for the VFA, fundraising for which was completed on 15 March and which will be listed shortly, says a VietFund spokesperson. The firm has established an active team to develop this quant fund model. As fund manager of the VFA, Luong Thi My Hanh, deputy CEO of investment and research, is leading the development of the model.

Meanwhile, given Kokalari's quantitative expertise, it might seem strange to some that he is running a property-related fund. AsianInvestor put this to Louis Nguyen, who said that although Vietnam Property Holding (VPH) invests in property projects, it comes as a co-financer rather than a co-developer. As a result, Kokalari's contribution will be significant, adds Nguyen, as he can bring more insight about a financial investor's perspective to the investment team, given his long experience investing and trading real-estate stocks in the region.

"In addition," he says, "VPH's recent strategy has been focused more on investments in listed real-estate equities, which provides the liquidity demanded by our investors, and less on direct investment in real-estate projects."

Moreover, Saigon AM's team has a strong track record in property project planning, valuation and implementation, so can help Kokalari on such activities involving the fund's direct investment or its investee companies, adds Nguyen.

The firm is not the only Vietnamese manager to be launching new products -- PXP Asset Management is about to launch the country's first open-ended fund.

Founded in 2007, Saigon AM manages Vietnam Equity Holding and VPH, two investment funds listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and Xetra.

The company's advisors include Markus Winkler, who has raised $1.5 billion for funds in Vietnam, and Mark Pedretti, head of private equity of Reed Smith in New York. Both men advise Saigon AM on strategic planning activities and investor relations with investors in German-speaking countries and the US.