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THE eFC INTERVIEW: Christine Ong, CEO, UBS Wealth Management Singapore

Simon Mortlock, Asia Pacific editor, eFinancialCareers, talks to Christine Ong, CEO, UBS Wealth Management Singapore.

SM) To what extent do you think there is a talent shortage in private banking in Singapore, and what can employers do to tackle it?

CO) With the rapid growth of the wealth management industry in Asia, there will be an increasing demand for well-qualified professionals. While Asia Pacific offers great growth opportunities, what remains a challenge is the limited supply of high quality private bankers.

The financial crisis has significantly enhanced the value of those seasoned bankers who have weathered market cycles, and who are best placed to help mitigate risk and advise on how best to capitalise on the new investment opportunities. It takes time to convert people from other, or similar, industries into private bankers.

Unless there is a concerted effort to keep the talent pipeline flowing, based on UBS calculations, the wealth management industry is going to see a shortfall of around 900 experienced private bankers in Singapore in the next five years.

We have always recognised that training and career development are a cornerstone of the firm’s success, as well as a key differentiator in the competitive wealth management industry. Therefore we have put considerable resources into this area. The UBS Wealth Management Campus – which was launched in Singapore in April 2007 and is a forerunner of the UBS Business University – continues to provide training for employees new to the industry, as well as ongoing training and professional development for existing UBS employees. To date, more than 24,000 training days and 2,000 events have been conducted at the university in Singapore.

UBS has also launched the Wealth Management Associate Programme, a comprehensive training programme for converting mid-career hires from outside the industry into client advisors, as part of our effort to widen the talent pool in Asia Pacific where the industry is growing rapidly.

SM) Given Singapore’s recent and rapid growth as a global wealth management hub, is there more interest from overseas-based private bankers wanting to relocate here?

CO) There has been an increase in the number of private banks establishing a presence in Singapore and this has also led to an increase in the hiring of private bankers within the region and from overseas. Ultimately, the wealth management business is a people-centric one. Clients want to deal with client advisors who understand their needs, are technically competent, and able to help them navigate through market uncertainties and uncover opportunities. They also want a partner who can operate within the tightened standards and regulatory requirements without compromise. For some clients, it is important that their client advisor is culturally and linguistically more attuned to their needs.

SM) What sort of relationship managers is UBS looking to hire?

CO) Our strategy is to build a client advisor team which can build and maintain sustainable relations in turbulent times. They should understand client needs and goals in a fast-changing environment, and provide holistic and research-based advice. They must fully understand how to operate in an environment which is based on tightened internal and external rules and regulations. Training and career development are key to UBS’s success – they are what differentiates us in the competitive wealth management industry, therefore we have put considerable resources into this field.

In the area of recruitment, the war for talent in Asia Pacific makes the task challenging. Our major competitors have all announced aggressive growth targets for Asia Pacific, which are normally coupled with aggressive hiring targets. At the same time, the supply of high quality private bankers in the markets we operate in is limited. To reach our growth ambitions, we need to be able to attract and retain the best talent.

I believe that we are able to continue to attract and retain high calibre talents as we offer an attractive place to conduct business. We offer private bankers a great platform, a brand that is strong, and on a personal development level, we offer a variety of training, internal career mobility and career development opportunities.

Since the beginning of 2010, we have hired close to 400 new people, including 150 client advisors. We continue to hire strategically in accordance with the growth needs of the business. In the medium term, we expect to grow the number of client advisors in Asia Pacific from 900 to 1,200, in line with business needs.

SM) What advice would you give to professionals in other parts of financial services who want to establish a career in private banking?

CO) My advice to those who want to enter the industry is to come in with your eyes wide open. Private banking is neither glamourous nor easy. You must have the requisite technical and market skills, sound financial knowledge, and above all, the ability to listen and put the client at the centre of the relationship. As the recent financial crisis has shown us, it can be extremely difficult during turbulent times to help clients navigate through the crisis. You need resilience and perseverance.

You need to continue to keep ongoing communications with clients. These conversations can be very difficult because these clients may have just lost a portion of their portfolio or they may have become very risk adverse. But it is at times like these that clients need us the most. We know from client feedback that they want pro-activity, timely advice, a good execution platform, and trusted advisors who can deliver holistic solutions that leverage the entire bank.

This is a mantra I tell my staff and I believe this is something which UBS delivers. Ultimately, private banking is a profession that can give you a great deal of personal satisfaction, knowing that you have helped your clients achieve their wealth objectives, or assisted them in the smooth transfer of their family business to the next generation, or helped them achieve their philanthropic goals.

In this business, you cultivate long-term and deep relationships with your clients, sometimes spanning across generations. It is immensely gratifying when clients come up to you to say thank you and it motivates you to do more. I’ve been in the wealth management industry for the past 18 years and it keeps getting more interesting.

Comments (3)

  1. Given a strong interest to becoming a private banker. How difficult would the transition process be for a merchant business banker to transit into a private banker role in ubs? What would be the top 5 prerequisities for ubs to consider? Appreciate Christine’s perspective.

  2. How can I join a role as a Private Banker?

  3. I am a mid career professional who is considering a switch to private banking. Anyone able to advise what to expect and how to do well? Is it an unstable job whereby afew months of low sales will result in getting the sack?

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