The new bank to work for in Singapore if you want a career change

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It’s a potentially lucrative career-change trend that we first spotted in July: private banks in Singapore are increasingly taking on “priority” bankers from the mass-affluent retail market because there aren't enough experienced private bankers willing to move firms.

Headhunters told us last month that banks such as ANZ, Citi, DBS, HSBC, Standard Chartered and UOB had been shifting some of their existing priority staff into relationship-manager roles within their private banks.

Now Maybank has confirmed that it’s part of the trend. The Malaysian firm’s private banking unit in Singapore, which launched in November, has 35 relationship managers (RMs), several of whom were “upskilled” from affluent banking, Alvin Lee, who heads Maybank Private Wealth, said in a recent interview with Singapore’s Business Times.

Maybank is focusing on clients who have at least US$1 million in investable assets, a lower threshold than at many other private banks in Singapore, which presumably makes it easier for the firm's priority bankers to transition their current clients to a private-banking platform.

Maybank's upskilling makes sense as an initial build-out strategy in Singapore, according to private-banking headhunters. As a new entrant into Singapore’s competitive wealth-management sector and as a bank better known, even in its home country, for servicing retail and corporate clients, Maybank would have struggled to staff up just by poaching experienced RMs from rivals.

“You have to remember that right now it’s tough even for large established private banks to hire in Singapore,” says Clarence Law, a Singapore-based business advisor in private banking. RMs often see little upside in joining a new private bank – an onerous, often risky process that involves convincing clients to move their accounts.

As we reported in June, RMs who move firms face tough first-year revenue targets as private banks struggle to cover expensive salaries and rising regulatory costs. The profit margin for wealth managers in Asia is 17 basis points, compared with 23 in Europe and 32 in North America, according to the McKinsey Global Private Banking Survey 2013.

Proper private bankers also wanted

Despite the tough hiring market, Maybank is expected to further expand its private banking team in Singapore over the next 12 months and it won't just be taking on priority bankers wanting a career change.

“I think Maybank will also be looking at experienced private-banking RMs with ASEAN and North Asian clients. Like at most private banks, anyone who can build a basic client book of at least US$50m a year will be seriously considered,” he adds.

Rather than targeting staff from the likes of UBS, Citi, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan – the five largest wealth managers in Asia by assets, according to a Private Banker International study – headhunters say Maybank will mainly poach from Singaporean firms: DBS, UOB and Bank of Singapore, OCBC’s private banking unit.

“It will be tough for Maybank to hire private bankers, but not impossible,” says Rahul Sen, a former private banker and director at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Singapore. “Maybank will need to build a stronger platform in Singapore before it can attract big private-client money. But the group has a strong balance sheet and I think in the future it can compete among the Asian private banking houses here.”

Maybank also faces competition from RHB, another Malaysian bank, which announced plans in April to set up a wealth management unit in Singapore. The city state has established itself as the main hub for private banking in Asia, a region where wealth among millionaires may soon top North America’s. In terms of current investable wealth, Asians hold US$14.2 trillion and North Americans US$14.9 trillion, according to a June wealth report by Capgemini and RBC.

Headhunters say they would “sell” private banking jobs at Maybank on the basis that candidates could achieve more independence, more flexibility across markets and better work-life balance.

Maybank was not immediately available for comment.

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