UK insurer Standard Life is set to announce an expansion of its Asian business, with most of 30-40 planned staff additions due to come in Hong Kong, and the rest across Singapore and Dubai.

The firm now focuses heavily on retirement savings and investment business across these markets as opposed to selling traditional insurance policies. Its main business is selling investment-linked products through intermediaries to customers with more complex needs, perhaps as their families or assets are internationally mobile.

It may be that domestic investments don’t suit them and they want more international exposure, says Alan Armitage, Standard Life's CEO for Asia and emerging markets. For example, one of the firm's biggest growth areas is servicing mainland Chinese clients travelling to Hong Kong.

Indeed, Hong Kong will be the main hub for Asia, with some 20-30 of the new positions based there, 50% of them IT roles to support the three territories. The rest will be largely in business development, marketing and distribution, which are mostly client-facing positions.

There had been 30 staff in the UK covering these areas, but they will no longer be needed and a consultation is under way as to their future. The hope is that Standard Life will be able to redeploy as many of them as possible, says Armitage, who returned from mainland China to help relaunch the Asian business during 2006.

The insurance business works very closely with Standard Life Investments (SLI), the asset management arm of the Standard Life group that is also committing substantial resources to Asia.

The insurer is looking to distribute some of SLI’s funds alongside third-party products in insurance wrappers. It currently has 300 funds on the Hong Kong platform (all Securities and Futures Commission-authorised), 150 in Singapore and 500 in Dubai. Most of them are Luxembourg Sicav products, and only around 12 of those in Hong Kong are SLI products.

“While we have open architecture, we want to allow assets to flow to SLI funds,” Armitage tells AsianInvestor, adding that Standard Life also leverages on other resources of SLI, including joint marketing or investment staff.