Standard Life Investments has hired a Asia wholesale distribution executive from Goldman Sachs Asset Management in a newly created role as it steps up efforts to promote its multi-asset capabilities in the region.

Virginia Devereux Wong, who spent nearly four years at GSAM, joined SLI in Hong Kong earlier this month. She will meet distributors to boost the firm’s presence on behalf of the funds subsidiary of UK insurer Standard Life.

At GSAM, Wong was responsible for business development, focusing on private banks in Asia. It is understood she has not yet been replaced, but a GSAM spokeswoman declined to confirm this.

Wong’s hire comes after Zhang Xiaosong and Zhu FeiFei joined SLI in July as investment director and Asia business development manager, respectively. Zhang previously worked at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch as head of structured products, while Zhu was a vice-president in Nomura’s investment banking division. Both work in the firm’s newly relocated Hong Kong office.

Regional private banks are accumulating assets quickly, says David Peng, investment director and head of Asia at SLI, yet fund penetration remains low among private banks in the region.

“We all know that financial institutions [and private banks] in Asia have some very healthy [levels of] AUM,” Peng tells AsianInvestor. “But from my perspective, of all of the assets under administration for private banks, only a small percentage [10-12%] goes into funds.”

But he says private banks are quickly coming to realise that managed solutions, and funds managed in a discretionary portfolio, is a sustainable investment approach that is mutually beneficial to both distributor and end-client.

One area where SLI has excelled is in multi-asset funds. It runs one of the biggest such products in Europe, the $28 billion Global Absolute Return Strategies (Gars) fund, which has attracted more than $8 billion since the start of 2012. That fund makes up more than 10% of its global AUM.

The firm is targeting both institutional and wholesale/retail growth in its multi-asset capabilities globally, including in Asia. Its wholesale expansion will see it target private banks more.

“Private banking clients have fairly sophisticated needs," says Peng. "Some in their own rights are institutions. We’re looking to help Asian private banks and wealth managers grow their managed solutions and discretionary portfolios invested in funds.”

But it’s no easy task. “What’s sold in Zurich or London may not translate in Asia,” he says, adding that building relationships is very time-consuming, particularly in Asia.

As such, Peng says the firm will likely add to its wholesale team in Hong Kong and eventually Singapore, without elaborating.

Along with Wong and Peng, Jason Lam relocated to Hong Kong from Edinburgh in November to help develop the firm’s wholesale business, although he also works on institutional mandates.

SLI also has hopes to increase the number of retail clients it serves via consumer bank platforms in time, although Peng declines to offer more details.

When SLI launched in 1998, 96% of its AUM comprised in-house insurance assets from parent Standard Life. Today, of SLI’s total $271 billion in AUM, more than 50% is accounted for by third-party assets. The firm sources just $1-2 billion from Asia-Pacific, by AsianInvestor numbers.

SLI’s largest portfolio is fixed income, accounting for $118 billion, with equities totalling $83 billion and absolute-return strategies over $30 billion. SLI also invests in real estate and private equity.