As global asset managers have made cutbacks in Asia or pursued mergers in recent years, US fund giant T. Rowe Price has been bucking the trend by rapidly building out its operation in Hong Kong.

The firm, which surpassed $1 trillion in assets under management in the first quarter of 2018, expanded its headcount by a net 10 people this year and six last year. Recent additions include a regional head of investment operations, a fixed income trader and several client servicing executives. 

There are now 74 licensed individuals in Hong Kong, nearly double the 40 at the end of 2012, according to Securities and Futures Commission data collated by Webb-site. T. Rowe now has 47 investment staff and eight sales executives in Hong Kong, a company spokeswoman told AsianInvestor.

The main aim of T. Rowe's hiring drive is to expand its asset base through fund distribution via retail and private banks and insurers, but its institutional clients will also welcome the buildup of on-the-ground investment expertise.

Asked why the recent personnel growth has been more rapid in Hong Kong than in Singapore, the spokeswoman said the firm was agnostic over location and would hire the best talent where it could find it. 

Meanwhile, in China a growing number of fund houses are busy building up onshore wholly foreign-owned entities, but T. Rowe has not done so as yet. The spokeswoman said: "We continue to evaluate our opportunities in China as the regulations evolve."

T. Rowe has no current plans to add offices in Asia to the locations in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, she added, but will review the situation as the business grows.

NEW ADDITIONS

Among the recent hires on the investment side, Ambarish Ray joined just last week as a trader from Pictet Asset Management in Singapore, where he was an emerging market bond trader. Ray replaced Lenny Kwan, who will now be lead portfolio manager for a planned flexible EM bond fund.

Jane Man

Meanwhile, Jane Man came in on April 16 as head of investment operations for Asia Pacific from State Street Global Markets in Hong Kong. The role has been newly created as the regional business has expanded, said the spokeswoman. 

At State Street, Man had overseen the onboarding and middle-office functions for Asia Pacific. Regional onboarding has now been assigned to Jak Chan and middle office to Tim Ractliffe, said a State Street spokeswoman. Chan and Ractliffe are both existing members of the firm's operations team.

There have also been additions to the sales team at T. Rowe Price.

Wing Tam started on June 4 as senior manager of global client operations, having previously been Asia head of client operations at Janus Henderson Investors in Hong Kong. Tam replaces Anita Lam, who left the firm in June to pursue other opportunities.

Janus Henderson, created by the 2016 merger of Janus Capital and Henderson Global Investors, is not replacing Tam. 

Reporting to Tam are two other new arrivals, Au Yee-Wing and Derek Yuen.

Au took up a newly created role as client operations manager on June 26 from JP Morgan AM, which declined to comment on the departure.

Yuen joined on June 8 as manager of global client operations for Asia ex-Japan. T. Rowe said he was a replacement hire but declined to identify his predecessor. Yuen was previously Asia business development manager at Australian firm AMP Capital, which is seeking a replacement. 

There has also been a recent hire to the Singapore sales team, with Lee Da-Seul joining on April 5 in a newly created role as relationship manager. He supports the institutional team with a focus on Korea and Taiwan, having recently finished a Master’s degree from Yonsei University.

INTERMEDIARY DISTRIBUTION ENTRY

T. Rowe Price had begun its move to ramp up intermediary distribution in the region with the July 2014 hire of Scott Keller from UBS Global Asset Management. He joined as Asia-Pacific head of global investment services with a view to expanding the sales team and broadening the range of distribution relationships. 

The firm had until that point focused heavily on institutional clients, but a retail business requires more on-the-ground resource, in order to manage products and service distributors locally.

Keller then hired former colleague Elsie Chan from UBS AM in October 2015 as head of intermediary sales for Asia to ramp up the regional distribution push. 

T. Rowe has funds registered for sale to the public in Hong Kong and Taiwan and through private placement in Singapore.

Time, and presumably fund performance, will tell if the firm achieves success in Asia’s retail market. It can take decades to build a well established distribution business in the region – as the likes of Franklin Templeton, JP Morgan AM and Schroders can attest.