INTERVIEW: How Manulife IM is expanding its marketing efforts in Asia

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Manulife Investment Management is building out its marketing capabilities in Asia ahead of launching a marketing drive there later this year, says the region’s institutional marketing chief.

Nicola Walthew, Head of Institutional Marketing for EMEA and Asia, added the latter region to her job title earlier this year. She explains that the firm has long had a significant presence in Asia, with marketing focused on the retail and retirement channels.

“The institutional side of the business has previously been supported by those resources but we’re now excited to have dedicated institutional marketing expertise on the ground.”

When Nicola began her role six years ago, the European business was in market entry stage, with a small distribution team. The role was really starting with a “blank sheet of paper”, building up the marketing strategy as the business grew “exponentially” in the region.

The new role will see Nicola undertaking the same task in Asia, albeit from a different starting position as Manulife has a local presence in 10 Asian markets, and more than 120 years’ experience in the region.

Nicola has been developing the strategy, scoping out and costing initial priorities and is currently in the advanced stages of hiring someone to roll out plans and support the ongoing development of marketing locally.

“I’m going to be pulling on [the person’s] expertise in terms of the approach that we should be taking, what we should be mindful of, what works best.”

“Focus to date has been on establishing the foundations to enable us to start to roll out campaign activity later this year.

“We need to identify priorities for the region, including product focus, which will likely differ country to country. There are many complexities to consider, given the number of countries and the fact each has different rules and regulations, for example areas such as data protection and what this means for lead generation.”

When discussing the global vs regional approach, Nicola mentions that there is a global plan, but the importance of tailoring activity to the region cannot be under-estimated.

Shifting focus, Nicola talks about the demand for sustainable investments. While Europe is widely felt to be taking the lead, Nicola believes Asia is a “fast follower” and notes the rising importance of ESG in the region.

“We were one of the first investment managers to launch a Sustainable Asian Bond product and have recently added an equity version to our capabilities, with both seeing significant investor interest”.

In addition, as the world’s largest natural capital manager1, sustainable investment in real assets continues to be a focus. A recent campaign focused on natural climate solutions via investment in timberland and agriculture has seen extremely strong engagement, which shows just how important the topic is for investors looking to reduce carbon in their own investment portfolios.

Priority is also given to increasing brand awareness. Nicola’s strategy is to identify areas where she believes Manulife Investment Management has a competitive edge and can achieve early cut through in an otherwise crowded market. She has built multi-faceted campaigns to generate awareness with target audiences. Recent examples include “Investing in Nature” and “Gateway to Asia” campaigns promoting the firm’s real asset capabilities and broad depth of expertise across the Asian fixed income market.

Managing this vast network of activity is the bread and butter of Nicola’s role. As well as the team in Asia, Manulife Investment Management has a large marketing team in Boston and Toronto, supporting activity around the world.

However, Nicola says that for her role London provides the perfect centre point between North America and Asia.

“Mornings are Asia. Afternoons and evenings tend to be North America and then lunchtime is the time when you can get everyone together.”

In particular, the hybrid working model in place since the pandemic has allowed more flexibility, with people able to dial from home for a super early call (maybe with cameras off!), that would have been difficult to facilitate if you had to accommodate a daily commute into the office.

“It’s what I call a Covid keeper – it’s changed the way we work. We’ve learned to build and maintain relationships virtually; the world has become a much smaller place”.


1  IPE research as of 2/5/2023. Ranking is based on total Natural Capital AUM, which includes forestry/timberland and agriculture/farmland AUM. Firms were asked to provide AUM and the as of dates vary from 12/31/2021 to 12/31/2022.

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