The Asian wealth and asset management industry is in its “between time”. Christmas and New Year have passed and Chinese New Year is merely weeks away. Spy is pleased to report that many industry colleagues were actively shunning Dry January at the FSA Awards in Singapore yesterday. The occasion called for good cheer and glasses were brimming with wine and, if Spy’s sources are correct, abstainers (almost) are in a minority. Table talk consisted of rumours, gossip and the dreaded one-year performance report to clients. Spy is convinced that many fund sales people are praying that January’s equity gains hold so that the post-CNY “year-to-date” figure is a net positive one – or it is going to be a rather tedious start to the year in indeed.
Spy has been slowly catching up on the numerous people who have moved around before and after the Christmas break. The industry has been anything but static.
First up, Spy has heard that Wendy Loke has stepped down as head of marketing for Pimco in Southeast Asia. Spy understands that Wendy left the firm toward the end of last year and no replacement has yet been appointed. Pimco has a reputation for being one of the few asset managers that is “always on” with regards to marketing, with campaigns running constantly in different media. The firm’s Global Bond Fund managed is up 1.2% on a one-year basis.
As Charmayne Neo is on maternity leave at Blackrock, the world’s biggest fund firm has appointed Eunice Woo to cover marketing in Singapore. Spy understands that Eunice joined the firm from DBS and is reporting into Doris Ma in Hong Kong. Blackrock has recently announced some well-publicised job cuts although Spy understands that Asia has been relatively well insulated from those changes. The firm’s star performing fund over the last year is its World Healthscience strategy – up nearly 5%.
Janus Henderson has filled its vacant Singapore-based head of wholesale distribution role with the appointment of Serena Sim, notes Spy. Serena joins from BNP Paribas Asset Management. Serena is an experienced salesperson with previous roles at Legg Mason and Schroders. Similar to Blackrock, Janus Henderson’s star performer has been its Global Life Sciences Fund in the last 12 months, achieving a 4% return.
Spy has learned that Wanzhen Xu, who was handling intermediary sales in Hong Kong for M&G, has stepped down to take a sabbatical from the industry. If Spy’s sources are correct, Wanzhen has swanned off to do some traveling in Southern Africa, no doubt making every industry colleague, suffering from Hong Kong’s polluted air, a tad jealous. Spy has no news on who is replacing Wanzhen although M&G did hire Heather Lei at the end of last year to oversee sales in Hong Kong.
Capital Group has relocated Hannah Ayme from its London office to Singapore to handle Asian marketing – strengthening its local presence. Capital’s US High Yield Fund has managed to stay flat in a sector dominated by rather ugly declines, observes Spy.
Finally, Spy has learned that Catherine Ow, manager of APAC marketing at Wellington Management in Singapore, is adding to her team as the firm builds its presence in the region. Spy has yet to confirm who is joining the firm. A case of watch-this-space.
Spy has been speaking to asset managers this week and one theme has emerged from the wreckage. Whilst no-one has any conviction in any particular asset class – one idea is bubbling to the surface: solutions. Rather than talk about a fund, groups are wanting to talk solutions – especially bespoke ones. Spy can see the attraction – a solution that is newly-created does not have to advertise its track record. Of course, if US equity markets continue to grind higher in the face of a giant Mexican wall of worry, Spy would expect this idea to have some competitors.
A new year, a new look? BNY Mellon Investment Management has tweaked its logo. Spy has to confess it is not the most dramatic change he has ever seen. The word “iteration” springs to mind. However, it does, in all fairness, do what it says on the tin.
So, the scourge of the active asset management community, Jack Bogle of Vanguard, has finally passed away at the grand old age of 89. Spy at times thinks the ETF industry goes too far and is used in the most unsuitable fashion – but he will never deny Jack put huge pressure on industry fees and changed the face of asset management forever. A tip of the hat to an iconoclast and may he rest in peace after a long and prosperous career.
What was December like for most asset managers? Spy overheard a conversation that summed it up best: “December was the month of rewriting client notes – before the end of one’s email, one had to scrap what you had just written and start again it was so volatile.” Nailed it.
For a while, ETF providers seemed to relish in choosing tickers that were a witty play on the fund’s investment theme. For example, the restaurant ETF is “BITE” and a global Infrastructure fund has “PAVE”. Recently Spy has seen a range of bland, irrelevant symbols come to market – as dull as some of the ideas within the funds themselves. However, hat tip to Direxion. Late last year it launched four triple-leveraged equity funds: Consumer Discretionary Bull (WANT), Consumer Discretionary Bear (PASS), Consumer Staples Bull (NEED) and Consumer Staples Bear (LACK). Spy can see the advertising campaign write itself.
Spy’s photographers have been braving rather chilly weather in Hong Kong to capture some new advertising. Barings in back on the sides of trams this week.
Until next week…