Regulators in nations around the world, including fast-developing markets, don’t know quite what to make of the asset management business, fund executives said Thursday.

“Asset managers are considered the same as prop traders,’’ said Christian Dargnat, CEO, BNP Paribas Asset Management.

Regulators in emerging countries in the Americas and elsewhere are just beginning to realize that funds and asset management is the only way that their citizens can convert their hard-earned cash into long-term wealth, said Vijay C. Advani, executive vice president, Franklin Resources. And they’re just beginning to think through how to regulate the business.

A strong regulatory framework is paramount, said Andrew Formica, chief executive, of the Henderson Group, if the industry is to convey trust and integrity to potential customers, wherever it operates.

But there is no worldwide framework, he noted. Three years ago, in the credit crisis, regulators spoke with one voice in trying to stave off widespread ruin. But in the last couple years, national interests and rules are coming into conflict with each other. A good example: the reporting and taxation requirements of the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which affects any company from abroad operating here and any company operating abroad that is based here.

Nations come at regulating the industry sideways, said Dan Waters, managing director, ICI Global, which is attempting to become a worldwide representative of the fund industry’s interests.

Regulators often start looking at regulating the industry by applying their country’s regulations on banks to the fund industry. Their fear, he said, is that asset management somehow constitutes “shadow banking.”

But the industry itself has not made it clear what they do, who operates in it, and how to distinguish between the local operations of a multinational firm or independent advisory firms of various sorts, operating locally or regionally, said Timothy F. McCarthy, chairman and chief executive, Nikko Asset Management.

A foreign company has to “outlocal” local companies, he said, in hiring and training local managers and executives to run their operations – and interact with local customers effectively.

“What has happened is our industry has not been able to brand itself,’’ McCarthy said. “We need to be able to brand ourselves in these growth countries.”

So far, customers and regulators are looking at companies as a lot of foreigners coming in, trying to set up businesses based on local money. And they don’t distinguish reputable operators and those that are not.

Sellers and buyers often don’t understand, even then, concepts and products that developed countries have come to accept as rudimentary, such as diversification of assets in something called a “portfolio,’’ he said.

Often, investment management consists of marketing the same product to all comers. No clear regard, in that instance, is given to the “suitability” of selling that product to a given customer.


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