The private banks that are hiring in Asia right now

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If you’re looking for a job in Asian private banking but you’re sick of working for a major multinational, both boutique European firms and expanding Asian banks are staffing up on relationship managers in Singapore, the region’s private wealth hub, this year.

While UBS, Citi, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan are the five largest wealth managers in Asia by assets – according to a Private Banker International study – headhunters say much of current hiring is from banks outside the top-five, who are eager to eke out market share in a region where wealth among millionaires may soon top North America’s.

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Asia’s private banking world received its biggest jolt of 2014 so far with the announcement earlier this week that DBS is buying Societe Generale’s private banking business in Singapore and Hong Kong.

The takeover, expected to take place in the last quarter of this year, will see a majority of Soc Gen’s 330 Asian private banking staff, including Olivier Gougeon, chief executive officer, moving to DBS, according to a media briefing by the French bank.

Soc Gen staff face an unsettling few months in the meantime. “A few Soc Gen bankers will be nervous as there's bound to be some client duplication with DBS, but most should be ok,” says Rahul Sen, a former private banker who’s now a director at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Singapore. “Market heads will also be wary as there may not be enough places for them. ‎Mid- and back-office functions could be duplicated and those personnel may be in danger.”

Still, post-merger in Q4, the expanded DBS private bank, whose high-net-worth assets under management are set to increase by more than 20 percent, is likely to be hiring, not firing, relationship managers. “It's not a blue-blooded private bank and is considered ‘retail-plus’, which may not suit candidates with sophisticated clients,” says Sen. “But it has a good product platform and participates in all IPOs and bond issues. DBS encourages and supports its top-performing bankers by giving them clients and AUM after they've proven their stripes.”

While DBS should be on your radar at year-end, other private banks – notably the boutiques UBP, Bordier & Cie, EFG, Pictet and Safra Sarasin – are already recruiting. Earlier this month, for example, Sarasin hired Yelandur Nagendra, formerly global head of India, Middle East and Africa at Bank of Singapore, to become its deputy CEO for Asia. Headhunters expect other BoS bankers to follow him.

“The boutiques know that to grow in Asia they need to hire strong bankers to bring in clients and build their brand in the region,” says John Koh, managing director of search firm WMRC Private in Singapore. Competition for talent is fierce in Asia private banking, as is the pressure on new recruits to perform – profits margins in private banking are tight, according to 2013 Global Private Banking and Wealth Management Survey by PwC.

Boutique firms in Singapore are after a certain type of banker. “Assets under management and revenue generation are still important but they tend not to be as critical a selection criteria as in the big private banks,” says Koh. Smaller banks tend to focus intensely on the strength of a banker’s client relationships.

“A senior banker in their late 40s, with a loyal base of clients for 10 years and capable of bringing over those accounts, would fit in very well at a boutique,” adds Koh. “Bankers may wish to move to boutiques for more independence, more flexibility across markets, better work-life balance, and when their clients need wealth-preservation rather than wealth-creation strategies.”

At the lower end of the private-banking food chain, Malaysia’s RHB has announced plans to establish a wealth management unit in Singapore this year. Headhunters say it will struggle to attract the best talent.

“Generally it's very tough for Malaysian banks. CIMB & Hong Leong Bank have both set up private banking units, with limited success,” says one private banking headhunter in Singapore, who asked to remain anonymous. “It's a hard name to sell to candidates unless there's a natural reason to go there. RHB will have to spend a lot of money on hiring and building a platform, and be committed to the business for at least three to five years to show good returns.”

If you’re moving to a smaller private bank of any ilk, your main concern, in Asia especially, will be whether your clients want to move with you. “In Asia, wealth clients favour the prestige, security, wider offerings and potential access to investment or retail banking that UBS, Citi and the like have,” says the headhunter. “Bankers will generally want to be paid a premium to join a smaller firm.”

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