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How to change banking jobs in Asia without losing too many clients

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Private banking in Singapore and Hong Kong is a hot sector for pay rises, chunky bonuses and expanding headcounts.

But there’s a major obstacle for many Asian relationship managers looking for their next private banking job: too many of their clients won’t move their assets over and the new bank won’t hire them as a result.

“This problem happens all in the time in Asia,” says Clarence Law, a Singapore-based business advisor in private banking. “It would be a miracle if I got through a year without seeing several cases of last-minute candidate withdrawals from job offers due to client-related issues.”

If you are thinking of joining a new private bank in Singapore or Hong Kong after pocketing your bonus this quarter, here’s are some tips on how you might convince your clients to come on board.

Only approach major clients

“You need to know a client very well to approach them on as sensitive a topic as a job change. If you’re not confident about this, don’t even broach the topic,” says Rahul Sen, head of private wealth management at search firm The Omerta Group in Singapore. “Typically a banker has A, B, C and D-category clients – depending on assets managed, revenue earned and the strength of the relationship – and ideally you only want to approach your top A and B ones.”

Do it in person

“A face-to-face discussion is usually the best method to get an initial sense of a client’s interest in moving,” says Gary Lai, managing director, Southeast Asia, at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership in Singapore. “But no client will actually put in writing that they will move with you should you join another bank.”

Don’t be a salesperson

If at the initial meeting you aggressively push the benefits of the new bank, your job move is probably in trouble from the outset. “You shouldn’t need to hard sell the new platform – give your clients credit that they already know and appreciate your integrity and frankness,” says Shanghai-based private banker Nova Zhang. “After all, they’re smart and experienced high-net-worth people.”

Stress solutions

If your client is experiencing any specific problems managing their wealth, be sure to stress that the new bank may offer specific solutions, says Zhang. “Do this in a soft-sell way – and then listen for their response before drawing a clear picture of the solution for them. This may end up being the first deal you bring in for your next employer.”

Avoid duplication

Private clients in Asia typically use several firms to look after their wealth, so avoid moving to banks where your clients already have a relationship manager. “You need to clearly find out from your key clients which other private banks they bank with. If there’s duplication, it’s unlikely they will move,” says Lai from Chaterhouse.

Know their future product needs

The products you’re managing for your clients may be restricted to your bank’s current offerings. But if you want to convince them to move, you need to match their future product needs to those of your new potential platform. “Being able to offer a better platform is a major factor in job moves,” says Lai. “It’s about the variety and accessibility of products and also the bank’s coverage areas, track record, internal processes and stability.”

Explain how it will benefit their business

Many private clients in Asia are newly-rich entrepreneurs who also have business-banking needs. Meanwhile, larger firms – including Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and UBS – are integrating their investment banking and private banking operations. If the firm you want to join has better IB or global coverage, this could be a key selling point, says Sen from The Omerta Group.

Don’t mention (your) money

Salaries and bonuses are generally on the rise in Asian private banking – but this isn’t a topic you want to mention to your clients. “Never say you’re moving because you’re being paid a higher salary – instead always explain the benefits to the client,” says Sen.

Remember that family matters…

Members of wealthy Asian families tend to bank with the same firms. “If family members are also tied to your current bank’s services, it may be more difficult to convince your client to move their assets,” says Lai.

…and that it’s all down to trust

“The portability of your assets under management is ultimately dependent on the level of trust you’ve built up with your clients,” says Law. “Trust eases any concerns clients have about the risk of changing banks,” adds Zhang. “And it also makes them believe that when you’re chasing success, you’re also chasing more security and profit for them and their fortunes.”


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