Tough tasks await Pimco’s new Asia chief

Kimberley Stafford takes over a business that has ambitious plans, including establishing a China presence and building a regional retail business, in a testing environment.
Tough tasks await Pimco’s new Asia chief

It’s been a frenetic couple of years in Asia for Pimco under Eric Mogelof, who is handing the regional reins to Kimberley Stafford, previously head of the client relations group at the bond fund house.

Since his appointment in July 2014 Mogelof has overseen hiring to spearhead a move into the retail market in Asia, sought to drive further expansion into equities and said Pimco was eyeing a Chinese presence, most likely through a wholly foreign-owned entity. That's not to mention several changes at senior management level

Stafford thus inherits the regional operation at a time of both rapid change for the firm itself and major global uncertainties, and amid an increasingly tough environment for the investment industry. Smaller asset and wealth managers have been shutting offices in Asia – Edmond de Rothschild and Syz are just two recent examples – and even well-established players have been cutting headcount in the region.

Stafford assumed her new role today and will relocate to Hong Kong from New York in mid-2017. Mogelof will move in the other direction in June to head the US wealth management business. Both will report to Pimco’s chief executive, Emmanuel Roman.

Stafford has spent 17 years at the fund house. Prior to her consultant relations role, she has worked in institutional sales and alternatives marketing, human resources and talent management.

Pimco declined AsianInvestor’s request for an interview with Stafford or Mogelof (pictured below).

China ambitions

On the China front, it will be interesting to see if Pimco follows through on Mogelof’s prediction in September that the firm would likely have an onshore mainland presence “in the next year or two”.

He noted at the time that the swift opening of China’s onshore bond market was providing opportunities that had piqued Pimco’s interest in setting up a local presence. Of course, a long line of international asset managers are readying similar plans, so success will not be easy to come by.

In a further indication of the firm's growing focus on China, Pimco in July hired its first credit research analyst covering the the mainland real estate sector. Frank Chen was previously head of research for Greater China at property services firm CBRE.

Elsewhere, Pimco hired at least four executives last year to drive its retail push through intermediaries in Hong Kong and Singapore, including Steve Chiu from Manulife Asset Management and Stacie Wang from Goldman Sachs.

Yet Pimco faces fierce and growing competition from numerous asset managers looking to beef up their retail and private banking distribution. To name just a few making such moves: Axa Investment Managers, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and T. Rowe Price.

Turbulent times

Moreover, Mogelof’s tenure in Asia has seen its fair share of turmoil.

The tone was set when founder and chief investment officer Bill Gross quit to join Janus Capital in September 2014, just two months after Mogelof took over as Asia-Pacific head. The firm was still reeling from the exit of CEO and co-CIO Mohammed El Erian in March of the same year.

Pimco had already suffered 14 consecutive months of fund outflows by July 2014. More inevitably followed, most notably from the flagship total return strategy, once the world’s biggest bond fund.

The firm also saw senior departures in 2015 in Asia, with Brian Baker retiring in May as Asia ex-Japan CEO and Ana Dhoraisingham stepping down in February as Southeast Asia head of business development and Singapore chief. Dhoraisingham has joined PineBridge Investments.

Pimco has since hired Abhi Shroff from research house Greenwich Associates in July last year as Southeast Asia head of institutional business. 

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