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Editor's Take: the private banking merry-go-round

One (rather exasperated) headhunter recently told me: "Finding an excellent private banker is like finding an excellent doctor. There are plenty of general practitioners around, but there aren't many amazing surgeons."

The talk last year was of firms only wanting the best, most cashed-up bankers, which was fair enough in the midst of the financial crisis. The problem now is that vacancy levels are rising again, but recruitment requirements remain high.

Firms are still targeting relationship managers with US$100m to US$150m of AUM and are expecting them to bring in at least 30 per cent of these assets in their first year of joining, according to John Koh, managing partner of private banking search firm WMRC.

And it's not all about the money. "Not many people have the technical knowledge, the soft skills and the ability to cope with the stress. Private banking is a difficult job, which means only a select few do well in it," he adds.

Last year the door was shut on privilege bankers wanting to make the step up, and there are no signs of private banks hiring them again in great numbers. Expats aren't an option either - unless the role requires servicing US or European clients from Singapore - because they don't have a local book.

Demand from international private banks is largely to blame for this worsening talent shortage in Singapore. They are pinning much of their future success on the wealth generated by Asia's rich, and they are using the Lion City as a springboard into the region.

The most extreme expansion example is probably BSI. Along with hiring some 80 other employees, the Swiss bank has pinched 25 relationship managers and about 75 support staff from RBS Coutts over the last six months.

If markets continue to recover this year, high-net-worth individuals should become more willing to change banks and that will make private bankers more open to jumping ship with them. So expect increased movement in 2010, if not quite on the same scale as BSI.

But the fact that candidates are keener to change jobs doesn't solve the underlying talent problem. This year's moves won't bring a flood of new bankers onto the market. Instead we are likely to see a merry-go-round of senior pros shuffling between different firms. Did I mention that RBS Coutts is recruiting again?

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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