Epic hiring in Hong Kong and Singapore as 101 bankers join UBS

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UBS has boosted the number of private bankers it employs in Asia Pacific by 101 in just 12 months, its fourth quarter financial results now reveal. This triple-digit hiring spree marks it out as the most aggressive front-office recruiter in Asian wealth management.

The Swiss bank’s headcount of Asian ‘client advisors’ (the name it uses for relationship managers) stands at 1,138, compared with 1,037 at the end of Q4 2017.

While UBS has long been the largest private bank by headcount in Asia, this rise of almost 10% is still significant. UBS’s banker workforce reached a recent peak of 1,092 at the end of 2015, but the firm then trimmed underperformers and that number fell to 1,016 a year later. The new figures prove that UBS has now abandoned redundancies in favour of recruitment.

UBS’s year-long recruitment drive is also well above average in Asian private banking, even as rivals like HSBC continue to expand. Taking on 50 bankers within 12 months (as both Morgan Stanley and Deutsche did in 2017) is a good result, given chronic talent shortages afflicting the sector – adding 101 is exceptional. Only Julius Baer, when it hired about 100 RMs in 2016, has grown on a similar scale recently.

How has UBS done it? “The ease of creating new products and investment ideas at UBS helps bankers concentrate more on managing their clients’ assets, and this attracts quite a few bankers to the platform,” says a private banking headhunter.

Interestingly, UBS’s APAC private banker workforce increased by 28 people in just the final three months of 2018, as the chart below shows. The fourth quarter is traditionally a quiet time for recruitment because bankers are weary of moving before receiving their bonuses. Private banks that hire during Q4 typically offer guaranteed bonuses.

UBS will want its Q4 recruits to become more productive as 2019 progresses. Average assets under management per banker (i.e. regional AUM divided by banker headcount) at UBS in Asia fell by 8% quarter-on-quarter to $314bn. An influx of bankers can cause a sudden dip in productivity because a job move almost always causes new RMs to lose clients. Net new money at UBS Global Wealth Management was also “adversely affected by client deleveraging in Asia Pacific”, according to its Q4 results.

Many of the Asian bankers that UBS hired last year are based in Hong Kong, including in the firm’s second office there, in Kowloon, which opened in 2016, says a source with knowledge of the bank. UBS appears to be on track with its plans to recruit 100 Hong Kong-based private bankers in the two years to mid-2019. The Swiss firm has renewed its focus on mid-tier millionaires (high-net-worth people with investable assets of $2m and above) in Hong Kong, even as competitors like Standard Chartered raise their thresholds for private banking clients.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: smortlock@efinancialcareers.com

Image credit: RiverNorthPhotography, Getty

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