Fidelity beefs up Singapore presence

And it gets a new Japan country head.

Fidelity Investments will expand its young business in Singapore this quarter by hiring its business development team and transferring investment managers, says John Ford, managing director for Asia ex-Japan in Hong Kong. The build-up begins with Madeline Ho, who began working at the firm this month after serving for nine years with rival Franklin Templeton in Singapore.

The office was opened only two years ago under Andrew Jenkins with a small business team. Jenkins oversaw the launch of a range of US dollar-denominated funds there, following liberalization allowing the introduction of offshore retail products.

While Ho is charged with hiring sales and client support people, Fidelity is also transferring three fund managers and two analysts to the Singapore office. "This is the first time we've ever invested money from there," Ford says.

Fidelity will run single country and Asean funds from Singapore. The push is driven partly by liberalization but also by Ford, who has considerable experience in the country.

His first set up Schroders' business there in 1989, as well as helped launch that firm's Malaysia joint venture, which it subsequently sold. In a later stint, Ford served in Singapore as Schroders' Southeast Asia manager before transferring to New York. He returned to Asia two years ago and moved to run Asia ex-Japan for Fidelity.

He notes that while many fund houses have found Singapore stagnant, Fidelity believes it can make an impact in the market. "We're establishing a business that will be able to stand on its own two feet," he says.

This applies both to retail and institutional investors. Beyond the retail market, Fidelity is keen to influence the debate in Singapore on reforming pensions.

"We need to be on the ground in order to offer advice," he says. "We must be seen as having a stake."

Separately, Fidelity has also hired a new president and country officer for Japan. Thomas Balk, a German national, is transferring to Tokyo from Fidelity's London office, where he had served as president of its European mutual funds business. Balk replaces Bill Wilder, who had departed 18 months ago to join the newly independent Nikko Asset Management as CIO.

Fidelity's European retail business has enjoyed success over the past few years, and the firm obviously aims to repeat that in Japan, where retail appetite for investment trusts is similar to where Germany's market was in the 1990s. Balk will report to Brett Goodin, Asia-Pacific managing director. With Balk and Ford now aboard, the firm has filled all of its senior positions in the region. Goodin had been running Japan, and will now be able to focus his attention on regional clients and issues.