London-based Threadneedle, an asset manager with $125 billion of assets worldwide, has opened an office in Hong Kong to develop Asia-based business. It has hired James Campion as head of Asia distribution.

Campion has plenty of experience in this area, having worked in the industry for 28 years, 10 of them in Hong Kong. He was most recently head of mutual funds for Asia-Pacific at Allianz Global Investors (a role now handled by Louis Leung, previously of Harvest Fund Management in Beijing).

Prior to that, Campion was also managing director for Asia-Pacific at New Star Asset Management and regional head of mutual funds for Asia ex-Japan at Schroder Investment Management.

Threadneedle is best known as a manager of institutional money in the United Kingdom. It has for the past few years sought to diversify its geographical spread as well as its clientele, hiring David Gasparro from Schroders as head of distribution to spearhead the expansion. It now has eight European offices and a presence in the United States. It also plans to open a Singapore office later this year.

Gasparro knew Campion from their Schroder days and hired him to develop the business in Asia. The firm will target three areas. First, the proliferating business among private banks. Campion says many asset-management companies with longstanding retail and institutional businesses often fail to adapt to the unique requirements of private banks. This sector has grown massively in Asia and is a major repository of the regionÆs wealth creation. Growing the Asia business nearly from scratch allows him to concentrate on this segment.

Second, insurance companies. Zurich Life, which once used to own Threadneedle, remains a major client, with the asset manager running many of its unit-linked products. With pension reform in Korea and Taiwan supporting the expansion of this business, Threadneedle wishes to build relationships with other insurance companies. Zurich Life continues to be the source of more than half of ThreadneedleÆs Asia-sourced assets, although Campion declined to quantify that. (The firm manages around $5 billion of Asian equities.)

ôInsurance clients give asset managers regular flows of investment,ö Campion notes. ôTheir products tend to be long-term savings vehicles.ö Where the firm is unable to source unit-linked mandates, it will also pursue insurance general account mandates.

Third, institutional investors û pension funds, state investment agencies and so on.

Campion says the firm can compete by providing a mix of long-only, long/short and 130/30 investment strategies. ôPrivate banksÆ challenge is finding hedge funds with capacity,ö he notes.

The firm has teams investing in most major global and regional equity categories bar Japan (it is now hiring a new Japan equities team in London), property, and emerging-market fixed income, including local-currency funds.

For now, Campion is the sole salesperson in Asia, but he says the firm plans to hire more in both Hong Kong and Singapore. It does not intend to move investment professionals out of London, however. The firm already has business in Asia, sourced from Zurich Life, from parent American Express, and from a handful of institutional investors. But now it wants to step up its activities with on-the-ground sales and client service.

ThreadneedleÆs origins can be traced to 1750 when one of its original owners, Eagle Star Insurance, opened shop. It is an amalgamation of the asset-management units of Eagle Star and another insurer, Allied Investors Trust, in 1994. It was sold to Zurich Life in 1997, which in turn sold it to AmEx in 2003. AmEx subsequently moved all non-credit card business into a company called Ameriprise Financial, which now has two components: Threadneedle for its largely ex-US investments and River Source for its domestic US funds business.