Text size

After 100 years in Singapore, what’s next for this US$800bn fund manager?

Listen to article

Navigating dramatic changes in the asset management industry, Canadian C$1.1 trillion (US$800 billion) in AUM Manulife Investment Management has found its own path in Asia of leveraging its insurance heritage while exploring new private banking partnerships in the region, the firm’s Singapore CEO told Asian Private Banker.

Koh Hui Jian is also head of retail distribution and partnerships, Southeast Asia, at Manulife Investment Management and oversees private banking distribution in the region.

“If we look back at the fact that we’ve been in Asia for [more than] 100 years, the growth of the business has been very measured and well considered. It’s really with a very long-term lens,” she said.

Starting with Manulife Singapore in 1899, Koh believes the Lion City has solid foundations for nurturing more private wealth in the region.

As of end-2023, the Lion City managed S$4.9 trillion of assets with 1,194 registered and licensed fund managers. In 1998, the AUM figure was just S$150.6 billion.

New semi-liquid strategy with PB

“We’ve got investment capabilities in both public markets as well as private markets but we do recognise that we’re not everything to everybody,” she continued.

In April, Manulife Investment Management launched a semi-liquid credit strategy for high net worth investors in Singapore.

The Manulife Private Credit Plus Strategy, a private credit fund-of-funds solution, aims to provide income – and to a lesser extent capital appreciation – by investing in US middle market senior secured loans and asset-based lending.

“In terms of distribution strategy, one has to be very focused. For all these years, a lot of effort has been very much linked to our insurance heritage. [The fact that] our flagship fixed income strategies have been introduced to many private banks as fixed income products speaks very much to our strengths and capabilities,” she added.

In Singapore, the firm currently has half a dozen distribution specialists covering retail and private banking.

1998 to 2024

Koh started her asset management journey in the late 1990s with HSBC Asset Management Singapore. She also worked at Prudential and Eastpring in various senior product roles.

“Since then, there have been a lot of things that have happened, including distribution, portfolio, and regulatory environment, and the industry is really on a path to vibrancy and growth,” she said.

Also, in 1998, right after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Lee Hsien Loong, then deputy prime minister, gave a speech on “Fund Management in Singapore: New Directions” at the Investment Management Association of Singapore Seminar to boost confidence in the wider financial industry.

“Fund management is one activity with good potential when the region picks up again. We do not expect quick results in the current climate. Fund managers and investors have reduced their Asian exposures and are not in a hurry to build them up again. But the longer-term trends give cause for optimism,” Lee said.

Coincidentally, the picture for Asian investments is still blurry while the wealth channels in both Singapore and Greater China show promising signs of growth, at least for the next decade.

According to the UBS Billionaire Ambition Report 2023, the number of Asia Pacific billionaires increased from 922 to 1,019, while their total wealth increased by 8.1% to $3.7 trillion, that year.

Clients rethinking China

Koh noted that China investment sentiment has seen a positive shift since 2023.

“There’s been a lot of headwinds in the China market and we do expect that to stay in the short term. I would say interest in China is still there but not in the immediate short term, although we have seen some of our distributors move from underweight to a neutral position for the China market since the last quarter of 2023,” she said.

Have a confidential tip? Get in touch [email protected]

Related Tags