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Boutique takes on Credit Suisse and Stan Chart in Asian hiring war. How?

UBP hiring Asia

Boutique v big

Boutique private bank Union Bancaire Privee is embarking on a hiring spree in Singapore and Hong Kong just as its larger rivals are also bulking up.

Surprisingly, however, industry experts say UBP should be able to get the talent it wants, despite strong competition.

Many of the main players in Asian wealth management have stepped up their recruitment in recent weeks.

Standard Chartered has poached 10 bankers from Barclays, while UBS has hired two senior managers from Deutsche – both firms are likely to take on more talent by year-end. Headcount is growing even more dramatically at Julius Baer, which has hired 100 relationship managers this year, and at Credit Suisse, which is aiming to recruit 150 more RMs by 2018.

These four firms were already big before this new recruitment – they were all in the top 10 private banks in Asia last year by RM headcount. Julius Baer employs about 370 RMs, while UBS has around 1,100.

Now UBP, a relative minnow, is stepping into this hotbed of hiring.

The Geneva-based bank still only has 60 Asian RMs following its purchase of Coutts International earlier this year.

It now wants to get 40 more on board, a 66% rise on its current headcount, in bid to double its AUM, Asia CEO Michael Blake told Bloomberg, without giving a timeframe.

Despite this recruitment drive coinciding with those of its larger rivals, industry experts say some RMs will be drawn to UBP.

“The acquisition of Coutts is a massive boost to UBP as an employer – most RMs wouldn’t even talk to it before that,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now head of wealth management at search firm The Omerta Group. “You’d never want to join somewhere where you have to explain who the bank is your clients – UBP has got past this stage now.”

How UBP will sell itself

UBP will present itself to candidates as an expanding post-merger boutique, and will take lessons from Julius Baer’s successful expansion in Asia after it bought Merrill Lynch’s international wealth unit in 2012.

“There’s still a place for boutique private banks to give an alternative to clients. RMs will consider jobs at UBP like they did with Julius Baer after its takeover,” says Clarence Law, a Singapore-based business advisor in private banking.

“It helps that UBP’s global private banking head, Michel Longhini, was previously the Asia wealth head at BNP Paribas and already has great expertise in growing a business in Asia,” says Law.

RMs who join UBP over its larger rivals will typically enjoy “a boutique bank’s working culture”, says Sean Kang, a former VP at Credit Suisse, now a director at consultancy McLagan in Singapore.

“There’s less need to navigate through a hierarchy to get things done as organisation structures are flat in a boutique,” says Kang. “And for younger RMs there’s greater exposure because you do everything yourself without a big team supporting you – this can open up opportunities to deepen relationship with clients.”

“UBP will also attract RMs who want to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond,” says a private banking headhunter in Singapore. “And its revenue and AUM targets probably still won’t be as aggressive as in, say, Credit Suisse. So there’s less pressure on you”

Sen from The Omerta Group says one of the key reasons bankers leave large firms is because they are pigeonholed into only covering one country. “UBP will offer them more flexibility – Taiwan-desk bankers will be able to expand their remit to other markets, for example.”

While Asia CEO Blake has said UBP is open to expanding in Asia via another acquisition (ABN AMRO’s Asian wealth business is potentially up for sale, for example), our experts say the firm is more likely to get its 40 new bankers by hiring them.

“Recruiting more RMs is less risky than buying another bank and integrating its team. And UBP still needs more time to fully integrate Coutts,” says Kang from McLagan

Although UBP increased its Asian assets 10-fold to $10.1bn because of the Coutts buy-out, it remains outside the top-20 Asian wealth managers by AUM.

“The main disadvantage of joining a firm this size is that your clients must fit into its product offerings, which are more vanilla than at larger banks,” says the Singapore headhunter.


Image credit: Yuliya Kryzhevska, Getty

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