Standard Life Investments says our story about it firing its CEO and shedding staff in Asia ("Standard Life closes investment function in Asia" by Liz Mak, 23 March) did not account for the firm's strategic shift and planned expansion in institutional business.
James Aird, Edinburgh-based head of business development, says the firm has decided to refocus from a wholesale to an institutional asset-gathering business model in Asia. "We're good at doing institutional business in the UK, in Canada, in continental Europe," he says. "It's my role to broaden that. We had attempted of late a wholesale strategy in a number of markets, but that is not where the future lies for us."
Standard Life has accelerated plans to grow its business in the United States by focusing on institutional investors, and it will do the same for sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and other large investors in Asia. It has a broader business including wholesale in Hong Kong and Australia, which will continue; as will its minority ownership in HDBC Asset Management, the second-largest fund manager in India.
The fate of the rep office in Korea is up in the air, he says.
Aird was in Hong Kong last week in order to recruit institutional salespeople. He hopes to have a shortlist ready by the time he returns to the region later in April.
When the firm initially opened shop in Hong Kong in 2000, its focus was on Hong Kong institutions and Korean pensions and institutions, acknowledging such a business would take several years to build. Kevin Smith, the executive who had opened the Hong Kong office, had put both the firm's and his personal commitment to the region in terms of many years -- in Smith's case, he pledged to make Asia his career.
There must have been a change of heart in Edinburgh because by 2004 Smith was gone. Aird assumed temporary leadership of the Asia office and hired Michael Reed from Franklin Templeton to run the business, which included registering Sicav funds in Taiwan and trying to sell offshore products to Korean investors.
So why, if Standard Life's strength is institutional, did it go into retail? "We thought we could build volume," Aird says, acknowledging the Korea and Taiwan efforts haven't gained traction -- but arguing the wholesale businesses in Hong Kong and Australia are robust.
The new direction is about playing to Standard Life's strengths, not about issues around the retail market, he says.
Standard Life Investments is well regarded in the UK as an institutional provider. It has relied in the past, however, on marketing its sterling-denominated products to Asian investors. "That's not valid now," Aird maintains. "We have a strong suite of products that travel the world. We're a top-10 player in real estate, for example. We have a good track record in global equities. We're making progress with products for global absolute return and multi-asset class. In our Boston office we're putting together a US credit team."
He does not know how many institutional salespeople he will hire in Asia. The firm already has a core team of Doris Wong in Hong Kong, James Cooper in Australia and Mike DeVere for Korea. Aird is looking for sales talent regardless of a person's physical location and says they will enjoy support from the client servicing team in Edinburgh. The sales team members report to him; Mike Reed's CEO role has been made redundant.
Aird says Reed's departure is not related to performance. The role simply was no longer required given the firm's business profile in Asia.