Banks diverge on APAC wealth management hiring plans

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Some of the world’s top banks have quietly shelved recruitment targets or slowed hiring for their Asian private banks, even as others are publicly committing to new recruiting sprees or doubling down on ambitious expansion plans.

Asia is the fastest-growing wealth market in the world and is home to more billionaires than any other region in the world, after knocking the US off the top spot.

Swiss and US banks, which dominate global private banking, initially seized on the region’s prospects with a “build it and they will come” strategy, making bold proclamations about how many relationship managers they would bring on board. But as competition for talent has intensified, recruitment approaches have diverged.

Credit Suisse is no longer aiming to employ 800 Asia-Pacific relationship managers by 2018, said people familiar with the Swiss bank’s plans. Julius Baer is being outbid for talent and is hiring more slowly, said Jimmy Lee, the bank’s head of Southeast Asia.

In contrast, Citigroup is confident it can hire nearly 80 people next year for its Asian wealth management business, said Bassam Salem, its head of Asia-Pacific private banking. UBS is relying on more creative ways to ensure it can double its onshore China headcount by 2020 and add 50 bankers a year elsewhere in Greater China, said Amy Lo, the Swiss bank’s head of Greater China wealth management.

A person with knowledge of hiring at Credit Suisse said the focus was on profitability per banker rather than expanding headcount. The goal of 800 relationship managers in APAC, as outlined in the bank’s 2015 transformation plan, was a “soft target”, the person added. The bank had 610 APAC relationship managers at the end of June — 10 fewer than six months earlier.

Julius Baer, which added 100 relationship managers in 2016, taking its total to 370, hired just 10 in the first six months of 2017. “At the beginning of this year, every bank big and small went out on the street to say they want to hire 500, 1,000,” said Mr Lee. “The values [of the salary of the people you are hiring] can be very high versus last year . . . It becomes untenable.”

“We are still interviewing on a daily basis . . . [but] negotiations take longer; we get priced out sometimes,” Mr Lee added.

Morgan Stanley is in a similar position — it would like to hire about 50 private bankers but doubts it can find them, said people familiar with the bank’s strategy.

Meanwhile Citi believed it could find the 78 people it is seeking: “The issue is getting investment, the issue is not finding the people,” said Mr Salem.

UBS has “expanded beyond traditional sources and developed tailored onboarding/development programs” to ensure it meets is hiring targets, said Ms Lo. That includes hiring from corporate banking and using partnership programmes with universities. “The war for talent shows no sign of letting up and nowhere is competition fiercer than in China,” she said.

JPMorgan’s private bank would like to increase its APAC headcount of about 700 by “low double-digit percentages” every year, said Kam Shing Kwang, its head of Asia private banking. “It’s not just about poaching from another bank,” Ms Kwang said. “We train and grow from within the firm,” she added, because “it’s not healthy poaching from competition alone”.

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