Multi-boutique Swiss firm Vontobel Asset Management is on a hiring drive in Asia as it bids to triple its network of potential clients.

The fund house is recruiting sales staff across its core Asia-Pacific markets to boost its on-the-ground resources and allow it to tap a far bigger pool of asset owners.

It also plans to redesign its products for individual markets in order to offer a more bespoke and localised range to Asian institutions and private clients.

Ulrich Behm, Asia-Pacific CEO of Vontobel AM, outlined to AsianInvestor the size of the pool of untapped investors it hoped to reach.

"We want to be a bit more local in the region, by which I mean raising the number of potential clients from 200 to 600,” Behm said. “For example, in Australia there are maybe 100 Super funds, and we have so far focused only on the largest 50. In Japan, there are over 200 pension funds and in Asia another 300. I am aiming to hire staff to reach out to this wider market.”

As well as Japan and Australia, core markets for the firm are mainland China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia. Each of these markets offers a different opportunity, said Behm, and he is placing his bets equally across all of them. “We aim to become more local and much better connected and to customise our products to suit.”

Vontobel AM has investment teams in Zurich and New York. The group has $80 billion of institutional assets under management globally and the investment capability covers global equity, fixed income, multi-asset, thematic and alternatives. It currently manages $6 billion for Asia-Pacific clients.

There are two key client segments - pension funds for whom the firm manages segregated portfolios, and intermediary banks which typically use the firm’s Luxembourg Sicav range. Behm said Vontobel was willing to customise the bank’s fixed income and multi-asset offerings for segregated accounts.

The firm already has five sales staff in Hong Kong and two in Sydney. In March this year, Vontobel hired Bobby Ross Bostic as senior relationship manager in Sydney as the firm sought to broaden its client coverage in the Australian institutional marketplace.

Behm said Vontobel planned to hire additional institutional sales executives for Japan, North Asia and Southeast Asia: “We will commence the search this year.”

The qualified domestic institutional investor (QDII) scheme is a key focus for Vontobel. “Everybody has seen China Life hand out eight mandates," said Behm. "There is a clear trend of China liberalizing the RMB and wanting money to be invested overseas. We are monitoring this trend and we intend to have a piece of the action.

"We can certainly add value in managing money for the top three Chinese asset owners (CIC, NSSF and SAFE) and be a part of the expansion of QDII.  Sometimes it takes time, when markets open up. Investors often initially prefer to invest with the household names. When they become more sophisticated and looking for specialist managers, there is our chance.”