Banco Santander, a Spanish bank with a large presence in Europe and Latin America, has created a new role in Hong Kong to develop its asset-management business in Asia.

With the necessary licences in place, Alexander de Laiglesia will concentrate on selling funds manufactured by Santander Asset Management in Latin America and Europe to Asian wholesale distributors and asset managers.

De Laiglesia, a managing director, has been with the firm for 20 years, starting in Tokyo as a deputy branch manager. He returned to Japan from Madrid in 2002 with a secondment to Shinsei Bank. He moved to Hong Kong last year, and has been developing the asset-management role for the past several months. De Laiglesia has also worked in Hong Kong and the Middle East in the 1980s with Standard Chartered Bank, and he speaks Japanese.

Santander pursues a universal banking model in its core markets of Spain, Portugal, the UK and the countries of Latin America, including Brazil, as well as the US. The bank has built investment teams in those countries.

The group mainly provides local products to its local investors. It cross-sells some products to provide these local customers with international exposure and may also provide third-party funds. Worldwide, Santander Asset Management manages €120 billion ($168 billion) of assets.

Asian markets are not core to this business. "We are not here to manage assets," says de Laiglesia. "We are here to channel investments from Asia to our core markets." That means competing in the niche of selling Latin America funds to Asian wholesalers and domestic fund houses. Santander will also seek to develop sales to institutional investors as well.

"We are the largest regional asset manager in Latin America, with big investment teams in markets such as Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Argentina," de Laiglesia says.

Santander has already notched up business in Japan as adviser to a couple of Brazil equity funds launched by Daiwa Asset Management, and in Korea, where Industrial Bank of Korea sells a Latin America equities product. Japan, in particular, has wealth, its investors are comfortable with Brazilian securities and that's an asset class where domestic asset managers do not have a local presence, de Laiglesia says.

Santander is flexible with regard to the type of relationship it will pursue with Asian distributors; it may act as an investment adviser, a provider of white-label products or a provider of mutual funds from its Luxembourg range. The firm will also seek segregated mandates from or sales of its Luxembourg funds to Asian institutions.

In addition to applying for regulatory licences, de Laiglesia is still researching which markets to focus on and which thematic products to highlight. Japan is the priority, but the region's other large markets -- Australia, Greater China, Singapore and South Korea -- are also important.