State Street Global Advisors, the Boston-based $2.4 trillion passive funds house, has been making staff changes in Asia as it seeks to build its institutional business and put a bigger focus on intermediary channels, regional head June Wong told AsianInvestor

The moves include hires to the sales and client service teams – but also involve departures – in Hong Kong and Singapore. Wong also spoke about the firm’s new tie-up with Chinese asset manager E Fund.

Moreover, SSGA is hiring a new Korea chief as it considers upgrading its Seoul office to a subsidiary. Obtaining such a licence would allow it to conduct commercial activities there, said Wong.

The firm is at an advanced stage of hiring a managing director in Seoul to run the business. At present it has a chief Korea representative, who provides client liaison and support to the large local institutional customer base.

In Hong Kong SSGA hired Shirley Hung in February to head institutional sales for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan institutional business. She joined from Nomura Asset Management in Singapore, where she had also worked in institutional sales.

Meanwhile, SSGA has seen a departure from the institutional sales team in Singapore. Li Hui-Jing left in May for family reasons, said Wong, and the firm plans to bring in a replacement in late summer.

Client service staff changes 

SSGA has also hired on the client service side, with Sally Wong starting in April in Singapore as Asia co-head of client service to work alongside Victor Chu, who covers North Asia out of Hong Kong.

Wong was previously client relationship manager at Columbia Threadneedle in Hong Kong, where she has been replaced by Ricky Goh, Asia-Pacific head of client service based in Singapore, said a spokeswoman. Goh joined on February 24 from Principal Global Investors, where he was Southeast Asia head of client services.

There are now five client service staff under Chu and Wong, although one executive, Janet Tin, will leave shortly for family reasons. The firm is in the process of hiring her replacement.

  June Wong

June Wong said the appointments of Hung and Sally Wong helped further her strategy of establishing a clear split between the client service and sales teams since she came on board in March last year.

She said there had been something of a mixed approach in the past, in that it was not very clear who was covering sales and who was covering client service. Wong has sought to make sure there are dedicated executives on each side who are clearly accountable for one area.

She added that she wanted the teams to take a more forward-thinking and proactive approach to institutional client management.

“There was perhaps not enough focus previously on anticipating client needs,” noted Wong. “So now have more clearly focused individuals, we are hoping we can penetrate these markets in a more deliberate and deeper manner.”

Private wealth push

Meanwhile, SSGA, which had $310 billion in Asia-Pacific AUM as of September, is increasing its focus on the wealth management segment, said Wong.

Charles Kwok, who had been driving the institutional business since his arrival in July last year, during the first quarter switched his focus entirely to intermediaries. As such, Kwok – who has worked at private banks in the past – will seek to build business in that area, said Wong.

Moreover, SSGA hired Andy Leung in April from JP Morgan Asset Management as a vice president and director to lead intermediary sales for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. JP Morgan AM did not provide comment by press time.

In addition, SSGA is at an advanced stage in appointing an intermediary sales director in Singapore, said Wong.

Wong hopes to benefit from what she sees as a broad trend for more transparency and lower fees, and "a steady regulatory push away from the pay-to-play model" towards a fee-based advisory model.

Private banks in Asia tend to be more inclined to push actively managed funds, as these products pay retrocessions, whereas passive products, such as ETFs, do not. The expectation is that a shift towards banning product commissions – such as has happened in markets like Australia and the UK – would be a boost for passive funds.

China progress

Separately, when asked about how the new tie-up with E Fund was progressing, Wong said SSGA was hosting the Chinese firm in New York to share ideas on financial technology. The two companies are also exchanging ideas on asset allocation strategies and product design for the wealth industry.

“We have held a number of meetings and are working closely on co-launching a product,” noted Wong. “We hope to share something more concrete in the second half of this year.”