Vontobel Asset Management is set to ramp up its institutional sales efforts in Asia, with the goal of having clients in the region account for more than 10% of the Zurich-based firm's assets under management within five years, according to a top executive.
To get there, Vontobel will expand its sales team, quadruple its target universe of institutional investors and widen product discussions beyond the team's initial focus on global and emerging market equities to include the firm's credit and multiasset class offerings.
In a recent interview, Ulrich Behm, Hong Kong-based CEO of Vontobel Asset Management Asia Pacific Ltd., said roughly 7% of the firm's AUM of 83.5 billion Swiss francs ($87.6 billion) is managed now on behalf of Asia-Pacific clients, seven years after he planted Vontobel's flag in the region.
That progress was built on an initial strategy focused on the region's 150 biggest institutional investors — 50 in Japan, 50 in Australia and 50 in the rest of Asia, Mr. Behm said.
Lacking strong name recognition in the region, that strategy was focused on reaching out first to investors with the resources needed to evaluate a money manager's people, products, philosophy and processes, he explained.
Vontobel now has between 60 and 70 Asia-Pacific clients — roughly half from that universe of 150 top investors and the other half banks or third-party distributors of Vontobel's SICAV funds, Mr. Behm said.
He declined to name the firm's clients.
However, publicly available information shows Vontobel managing money for some of the region's biggest institutional investors, including ¥27 billion ($263 million) in international equities, as of March 31, 2014, for Japan's ¥137 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund, Tokyo, and A$940 million ($885 million) in international equities, as of June 30, 2014, for the A$84 billion AustralianSuper, Melbourne.
The bulk of Vontobel's Asia-Pacific mandates have been for the firm's flagship quality growth global equities strategy, with 8 billion Swiss francs firmwide, and global emerging markets product, with 30 billion francs, Mr. Behm said. “In our first growth phase in (the Asia-Pacific region) we felt it was important to have a strong focus in our marketing efforts” in order to successfully establish a footprint in the region, he said.
Through late last year, the firm's institutional sales team comprised five professionals, including Mr. Behm.
Now, however, Vontobel is set to shift into expansion mode on all fronts, he said.
In early March, the institutional sales team added Bobby Ross Bostic, a former investment consultant with Russell Investments, as a Sydney-based senior relationship manager for Australia and New Zealand.
Mr. Behm said further additions will be made.
While calling “solutions” an overused word, he conceded that expanding Vontobel's lineup of salespeople with the experience to pursue broad-based discussions with institutional investors will be a key to powering the next leg of the firm's expansion in the region.
Meanwhile, Vontobel is poised to cast a much wider net when reaching out to Asia-Pacific clients. The firm's target universe will expand to the region's top 600 institutional investors, Mr. Behm said.
And with Vontobel's global equities and emerging markets products now widely recognized in the region, the firm will move increasingly to “develop a business pipeline in our most suitable fixed-income strategies, like emerging markets debt, global bonds, high yield and also in multiasset class,” he said.