Three people with some of the toughest jobs at HSBC in Asia

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Three people with some of the toughest jobs at HSBC in Asia

HSBC will be hoping that the three senior private banking appointments it’s just made in Asia will help it attract the front-office staff it needs to meet its huge headcount targets in the region.

Earlier this week HSBC Private Banking appointed Cynthia Lee, who joined in January from JP Morgan, into the expanded role of head of Private Wealth Solutions (PWS) for Asia Pacific. Her previous job only covered North Asia. Meanwhile, 23-year Citi veteran Steven Weekes has become head of PWS for Southeast Asia at HSBC in Singapore, replacing Michelle Lau, who is now an MD in ultra-high net worth and family office strategic services for Southeast Asia.

While the three moves are significant in themselves, Lee, Weekes and Lau will also be tasked with helping to spearhead HSBC’s wider recruitment drive in Asian private banking, say headhunters. HSBC is aiming to “significantly expand” its Asian private banking business over the next five years, including in PWS, which provides trust and fiduciary services, according to a statement from the bank. This involves hiring “top quality talent from the market”.

But will HSBC be able to attract the talent it needs? Its hiring plans are ambitious: HSBC announced last September that it’s adding about 650 new staff – including front-office relationship managers and investment counsellors – to its Asian private bank, with most of the new recruits based in Hong Kong and Singapore. And it’s recruiting just as several other private banks, including larger players such as UBS and Credit Suisse, are also expanding their front offices.

“HSBC's AUM in Asia has remained more or less flat over the past few years, so it’s playing catch-up with other banks,” says former HSBC and Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. Asian assets under management at HSBC stood at $124bn at the end of last year, and between 2014 and 2018 the compound annual growth rate of the bank’s Asian AUM was 2.4%, the lowest rate of all the top-10 private banks in Asia.

Persuading RMs to move in the current market is particularly difficult, say headhunters. “As always, RMs need to convince clients to support the move and deal with KYC rules at the new bank,” says Liu San Li, a former private banker, now a business partner at wealth management firm Avallis in Singapore. “But there’s also increasing pressure to deliver AUM in the first two years and a huge jump in revenue targets in subsequent years at most banks,” he adds.

Headhunters say that senior leaders at HSBC – including Lee, Weekes and Lau – should emphasise the firm’s two main strengths in Asian private banking when they are recruiting: size and stability. “As well as private banking, HSBC is one of the few firms in Singapore to offer trust services, insurance, corporate banking, investment banking, and consumer banking under one roof,” says Liu. “Private banking clients and RMs are attracted by the  powerful ecosystem of the whole group.”

RMs in Asia perceive HSBC as having a stable private banking platform, adds Sen. “It doesn’t offer many risky investment solutions to clients and offers a stable return to clients’ portfolio growth. So HSBC is able to attract clients – and their RMs – who are looking for stability in their portfolios.”

HSBC has made several senior hires in Asian private banking this year. As we were the first to report earlier this month, Hong Kong-based Lina Lim joined from JP Morgan as a managing director and regional head of discretionary for Asia Pacific. Around the same time, the firm also took on DBS’s Rocky Cheung as head of investment counseling for mainland China and Taiwan, and hired Simon Hwang, formerly of Citi, as investment counseling team head for mainland China.

Image credit: samxmeg, Getty

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