China represents a significant opportunity for asset managers, according to Cerulli Associates' latest report, 'Global Markets 2021: Continued Growth in Uncertain Times.'

Assets under management in China grew 34.0% in 2020 and net inflows increased 21.8% year-on-year, highlighting a huge opportunity for managers that can capitalize on it.

Cerulli's research showed that the Chinese fund market had an impressive 2020, with net revenues rising 37% year-on-year.

This growth was supported by strong local equities—the MSCI China recorded a 29.7% return last year, exceeding its 23.7% return in 2019.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on global economies, it has not dampened investors' enthusiasm for the Chinese mutual fund industry. Investors remain bullish about the country's stock market and regulators are pushing for the development of funds investing in equities, including fast-track approval for equity-related fund applications submitted by fund management companies that score higher under the scorecard method introduced in late 2019.

"We expect investors to show continued interest in Chinese equities in 2021 and beyond, based on the country's earlier recovery from the pandemic and its growth prospects relative to other markets," says André Schnurrenberger, managing director, Europe at Cerulli Associates. "As for bonds, investors are set to favor Asian fixed income because it currently offers better yields than bonds in developed markets."

Cerulli expects Asia ex-Japan retirement funds to continue to lead in terms of growth, rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.9% between 2020 and 2025. Although all markets in the Asia-Pacific region will likely exceed the global CAGR, China and Korea stand out, with their CAGRs expected to reach double digits.

Assets in China and India are set to grow the most over the next five years and beyond. At least 1,300 funds were launched in China in 2020, amassing RMB3.1trn ($475bn) in assets from their initial public offerings.

In India, the second wave of the pandemic, which hit the country in March 2021, could see cautious investors favoring safe and liquid assets; other investors may use market corrections as opportunities to allocate to mutual funds. COVID-19 may also encourage increased saving.

In non-Asian developed markets, pension funds are looking to opportunities in Asia. Canadian pension funds, including the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Ontario Municipal Employees' Retirement System, have been growing their Asia-focused teams to match their expanding investments in the region. In addition, the Nationwide Pension Fund in the U.K. and the Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System in the U.S. have indicated their interest in including more Asian private debt in their portfolios.

"Investors around the world believe that emerging markets, particularly in Asia, are making better progress in their economic recovery from COVID-19. As a result, they are keen to increase their exposure to such markets," adds Schnurrenberger.

"In addition, investors in emerging markets, including China, Brazil, and South Africa, are also increasing their foreign exposure. This creates opportunities for asset managers that can offer such investors the products they need."