Here’s how UBS has quietly hired 72 new bankers in Asia

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UBS Asia results

UBS has boosted its headcount of Asia-based private bankers by 72 in just 12 months, its third quarter financial results reveal. The Swiss bank’s headcount of Asian ‘client advisors’ (the name it uses for relationship managers) stands at 1,110, compared with 1,028 at the end of Q3 last year.

While UBS has long been the largest private bank by headcount in Asia, the rise is still significant in terms of its recent history. UBS’s banker workforce reached similar heights (1,092) by the end of 2015, but it then trimmed underperformers and its numbers fell to 1,016 a year later.

The new figures show that UBS has now abandoned redundancies in favour of recruitment. Many of the additional RMs 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, announced in May last year, 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. It is recruiting RMs to service this segment even as competitors like Standard Chartered raise their thresholds for private banking clients.

“UBS will continue concentrating on Greater China bankers, especially for the new Hong Kong office. It’s also hired in UHNW in Singapore for Southeast Asia coverage,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a partner at search firm Boyden.

UBS has actually added about 100 new private bankers during the past year – 72 is a net figure which also reflects exits from the firm, says the UBS source. Most of the new RMs have been poached from rival firms. “But UBS also moves bankers internally, from its investment bank,” says Sen.

The year-long hiring spree also marks out UBS as the most aggressive recruiter in the Asian private banking sector of late. Taking on 50 bankers within 12 months (as both Morgan Stanley and Deutsche did in 2017) is considered well above market average, given chronic talent shortages afflicting the sector – adding 72 is exceptional.

How has UBS done it? “It’s the largest private bank in Asia and globally. 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 Sen.

But has UBS’s hiring paid off in terms of banker productivity? Yes, although only to a limited extent so far. Assets under management per banker (regional AUM divided by banker headcount) at UBS in Asia have increased 2% year on year, from $336bn to $343bn.

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Image credit: ChaiwatNK, Getty

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