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Product differentiation remains key to getting on fund lists

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Opalesque Industry Update - Asset managers need to come up with unique and differentiating product ideas to make it to distributors' product shelves that are increasingly dominated by big brand names. Having the right product fit and how to differentiate their funds from peers were among the key challenges cited by asset managers.

This is one of the key findings of Cerulli Associates' newly-released report, Asian Fund Selector 2016: Striving for Longevity on Distributors' Shelves.

Amid the persistent global market volatility, a survey that Cerulli conducted for the report also found that a majority of fund selectors are still looking to add funds to cater to macroeconomic events. For instance, about 40% of fund selectors at global/regional banks surveyed said that they will add funds to cater to the impact of potential Federal Reserve rate hikes.

"A similar percentage said while they will not add funds, they may adjust their recommendation lists to accommodate uncertainties in the Chinese capital market," says Shu Mei Chua, an associate director with Cerulli, who led the report.

In terms of fund strategies, selectors at global/regional banks find limited product choices in traditional asset classes such as Asian mid-cap strategies, Chinese renmimbi (RMB) bonds, Indian fixed income, and European high yield. This potentially offers opportunities for asset managers who have not yet made it onto selectors' focus lists.

There is a greater inclination among Asian gatekeepers to add liquid alternatives in 2016, given the uncertain macro environment. However, demand continues to be largely from the global private banks, as appetite for liquid alternatives among local distributors and insurance companies is still nascent.

"In the liquid alternatives segment, some global/regional banks are looking for funds-of-hedge funds kinds of products, but find limited availability of such products," Chua adds.

Meanwhile, a look at the fund lists of Asian fund selectors also shows an increasing propensity to work with top names as it is an easier proposition to sell funds and expedite the due diligence process which could take a relatively longer time for unknown or lesser-known names.

This dominance of top-selling brands has resulted in challenges for unfamiliar names or new entrants to on-board their funds.

"Still, our research showed Asian fund selectors are also willing to work with new ideas and have allowed deviations in the past. Selectors may even relax their quantitative screening parameters, if the fund strategy is unique and timely for the current market environment," says Leena Dagade, a senior analyst with Cerulli.

Dagade cited the example of a Swiss bank in Hong Kong which added a RMB fixed-income fund from a boutique asset management firm in Hong Kong well ahead of market cycles and before others spotted the trend.

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