Most private banks are trying to grow their market share in Asia in a bid to win investments from the region’s growing legions of millionaires and billionaires. And to do this they need to hire more relationship managers in the wealth hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore. Recruitment in Asian private banking isn’t straightforward, however, mainly because RMs must convince many of their top clients to move with them. Mega rich people in Asia, meanwhile, are becoming more reluctant to endure banks’ increasingly rigorous onboarding procedures for new clients.
Despite these obstacles, 11 firms managed to add more (ex-China onshore) RMs to their Asian ranks in 2018, according to new figures from Asian Private Banker, which are shown in the table below. UBS took on the most RMs (101) last year to cement its position as the largest private bank in Asia. Its 1,138-strong workforce is almost double that of Credit Suisse (which has 580 RMs, down 10 from 2017).
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. 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. 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.
In contrast, the second-place bank in our table, HSBC, has recently set up a new unit to serve ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) clients in Asia, whose assets exceed $30m. But HSBC hasn’t only been hiring in UHNW. In September last year it began a wider-reaching recruitment drive to add about 650 new staff (including RMs) in Asian private banking, mainly in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Julius Baer’s addition of 30 new bankers puts it in third-equal place on the list, and shows that the firm is still in growth mode, despite the shock departure of CEO (and Asia advocate) Boris Collardi to rival Pictet & Cie in late 2017. Several of Julius Baer’s 2018 hires were first reported on eFinancialCareers, including Laurent Chevalley from DBS as a managing director, and Winston Teo from Bank of Singapore as Southeast Asia team head.
Still, JB’s 2018 hiring wasn’t quite as dramatic as in recent years. Between 2015 and 2017, Julius Baer’s headcount of Asia-based RMs shot up by 130 to reach 400 – the largest increase of any private bank not involved in an acquisition. Nearly a quarter of its staff are now based in Asia.
Deutsche Bank may be haemorrhaging investment bankers globally, but last year it took on 30 private bankers in Asia. This is not as many as the 50 it hired in 2017, but the job market that year was generally more active across the wealth industry. Lok Yim, head of emerging markets wealth at Deutsche, said last August, that he plans to keep on recruiting in Asian private banking.
In terms of percentage headcount rises last year, the large Western banks were trumped by two Asian competitors, CMB and Bank of China. Union Bancaire Privée (UBP) has also been hiring heavily for its size. The Geneva-based firm upgraded to a wholesale licence in Singapore last month, a move that is expected to trigger more recruitment this year.
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