TIAA-CREF Asset Management, the investment arm of the US teachers insurance and retirement income fund, is to open a London office in a bid to build its real asset business with European investors.

The manager, which has approximately $850bn (€671bn) in assets, has been investing on behalf of European clients for some 10 years and has now decided to bridge the distance in its operations.

It currently has around $10bn in European institutional assets but has managed relationships from its US office. The company will run its European operations with two staff in London and one in the US.

It hired Stephane Marguier as head of institutional distribution and Russell Elliott as a manager for investor relations, both US-based for two years before relocating to manage the new office.

Wiebke Wanner-Borchardt, director for mid-market distribution, will support the London office from the US.

John Panagakis, head of asset management business development, told IPE that, while the company was looking to maintain relationships with existing clients, the London office would also be used to increase its client base.

“Asset management is something we have always been doing outside the US, both investing our own portfolio and working with international asset owners,” he said.

“We are approaching $10bn of assets under management that we manage on behalf of European investors, so this is just a natural extension as demand grows.”

He said the asset manager’s focus would remain on its core strategies of real assets, comprising agriculture and timber, alongside its more traditional socially responsible mandates.

Panagakis said the company began socially responsible investing two decades ago, and runs positive and negative screens in both fixed income and equities.

It has seen increased demand for this, along with real assets, from European pension funds, insurers and sovereign wealth funds.

“[The operation] will be broadly based rather than following a distinctive strategy, and we are thinking of new and different strategies to respond to the market,” Panagakis said.

“The focus will continue in the real asset area and looking for potential expansion but beyond our traditional asset classes of agriculture and timber, and we will look at other real asset classes and opportunities in the credit space.”

In April, TIAA-CREF announced a merger of its real estate investment business with London-based Henderson Global Investors.

The company confirmed TIAA-Henderson Real Estate would remain a separate entity from its new London office, managing all real estate investments.