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Succeeding in Asian wealth management: build relationships not your bank balance

Mr. Goh Kong Peng, Executive Director, Coutts.

Much has been made of the growth potential of the high-net-wealth market in Asia in recent weeks, with expectations that Singapore and Hong Kong will become the new centres of private banking, beating even Switzerland, which has long held title to being the go-to destination for the banking needs of the super-wealthy.

We spoke to Goh Kong Peng, executive director of Coutts in Singapore, and asked him about carving out a career in wealth management in Asia and his outlook for the industry.

After graduating, why did you choose a career in banking?

I always wanted to go into banking; so it was a conscious decision to major in Finance at university. After graduation, I applied for jobs at banks, and started my career as a corporate banker in 1987. I made the switch to private banking three years later and I’ve never looked back. It has now been 23 years, with the last 18 being at Coutts.

How did you get to the senior position you are in today?  

In addition to a good grounding in banking knowledge and financial know-how – the hard skills – I feel that my soft skills, namely my approach to the role, have been the most important. These have included a positive attitude, hard work, perseverance and adopting an approach of team over individuality. I also have an ability to relate to people – be they colleagues or clients – listening to them, understanding their concerns, challenges, ambitions and working with them to meet their needs.

What are the trends in Asian private banking for the near future?

Asia will go through one of the largest inter-generational wealth transfers in memory over the next decade.  We are going to see significant personal wealth and many family businesses handed down to the next generation. There are now well over three million high-net-worth individuals with over US$10 trillion in investable assets in the Asia Pacific region; and Asia today is home to eight of the world’s ten fastest growing high net wealth populations. Despite this, nearly half of these assets are not managed professionally by the wealth industry.

How will these trends affect private-banking jobs at banks in Asia?

Issues surrounding family wealth will become increasingly important and complex, so managing them well will require extensive expertise and experience.

Given that many private banks want to expand in Singapore, how challenging is it to hire private bankers here?

It is a tough market in which to hire talent, especially as good private bankers are likely to be well looked after by their current employers.  Add to this the regulatory requirements and changes that are now in place that are putting additional pressure on private banks and their staff.

Are there any particular skills that are in short supply in Asia, which overseas-based candidates might be able to supply?

It is important that bankers have the right mindset or attitude when it comes to private banking in Asia. They need to be able to balance wealth enhancement and management with product selling, and they need to find the right balance between meeting the bank’s needs and meeting client needs. More importantly, they should be clear if this is just a job or whether it is a career. The latter dictates that bankers should look to build long-term client relationships over seeking short-term financial rewards from selling products.

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