Not too long ago, under the leadership of high-profile CEO Boris Collardi, Julius Baer briefly became the most expansionist wealth manager in Asia. Between 2015 and 2017, its headcount of Asia-based relationship managers (RMs) shot up by 130 to reach 400 – the largest increase of any private bank not involved in an acquisition.
The shock departure of Asia-advocate Collardi to rival Pictet in late 2017 then started the short reign of Bernhard Hodler, JB’s former risk and compliance boss, who was primarily tasked with cleaning up client portfolios and reforming the bank’s troubled Latin American arm. Unsurprisingly given his governance background, Julius Baer’s recruitment in Asia took a hit under Hodler – it took on ‘only’ 30 RMs in the region last year.
“Since Collardi quit JB, it’s become more risk averse and less aggressive,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. “This has affected hiring, and it’s also affected some of the RMs who need the bank to use its balance sheet more to lend to clients,” he adds.
Hodler, however, is now concluding his clean-up and is retiring at the end of next month. His successor is another insider, Philipp Rickenbacher, a 15-year veteran of the bank who’s currently head of intermediaries and global custody.
What does Rickenbacher’s appointment (he starts in September) mean for jobs at Julius Baer in Singapore and Hong Kong? While Rickenbacher is unlikely to bring back Collardi’s hell-for-leather approach to recruitment, he’s also expected to be less cautious than Hodler, for whom Asian growth was a secondary priority, say headhunters. Asian front-office hiring in 2019 and 2020 is likely to exceed that of last year.
“Rickenbacher has been with the bank since 2004 and he understands its DNA. Bankers there say he’s not in the Boris Collardi category, but is sales driven,” says Sen. “And because he’s an insider, he’ll be able to hit the ground running.”
A popular Julius Baer veteran he may be, but Rickenbacher is not well known in the wider private banking sector in Asia, or even in Europe. Headhunters say that earlier this decade, Julius Baer was able to attract high-performing RMs in Singapore and Hong Kong partly because they wanted to work for the charismatic Collardi.
Luckily for Rickenbacher, however, the Swiss bank’s growth in Asia under Collardi has already cemented its reputation among job seekers in the region. Julius Baer is the fourth largest private bank in Asia by assets, behind UBS, Credit Suisse and HSBC. These banks (and others such as Deutsche) are all trying to expand their Asian headcounts.
“Most RMs in Asia now see JB as JB, regardless of who the CEO is,” says Liu San Li, a former private banker, now a business partner at wealth management firm Avallis in Singapore. “The bank was an obscure brand in Asia in the early 2000s, but today it’s strong, so I don’t see Rickenbacher’s appointment as changing its ability to attract talent,” he adds.
Relationship managers in Singapore and Hong Kong perceive Julius Baer as one of the few big banks that are not completely “revenue centric”, says Liu. It's able to “provide true private wealth management”, he adds.
Image credit: EyeOfPaul, Getty
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