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HSBC's private bank is “playing catch-up” as it hires 300 staff in Asia

When HSBC’s private bank announced last September that it wanted to add about 700 staff in Asia by 2022, mainly in its front-office, eyebrows were raised across Asian private banking, a notoriously talent-short sector in which several other banks are hiring in large numbers.

So far, however, HSBC’s hiring plans appear to be on track – 300 people have already joined the Asian private bank, reports Reuters. The new recruits are spread across a “range of roles”, says a Hong Kong-based spokesperson for HSBC. They include relationship managers, investment counsellors, product specialists, family wealth planners, and a few middle-office professionals, but not “functional support staff”, she adds. Many of them are based in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Hiring the remaining 400 people will still not be entirely straightforward for HSBC, especially when it comes to recruiting relationship managers. “HSBC in Asia has been quiet for too long and this hiring is more like playing catch-up with the rest of the large private banks, who are already a few years ahead in their recruitment,” says former HSBC private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. Between 2014 and 2018 the compound annual growth rate of HSBC’s Asian assets under management was only 2.4%, the lowest rate of all the top-10 private banks in the region, according to Asian Private Banker.

HSBC also faces the challenge of keeping its best-performing bankers happy, while also onboarding scores of new RMs from rivals. “That’s the toughest balance which they need to maintain,” says Sen. “A bank just can’t keep on hiring but ignore the existing senior bankers,” he adds.

Who are some of the senior people hired by HSBC’s private bank in Asia this year? As we were the first to report last month, Christine Wong has just joined from Credit Suisse as Greater China head of private wealth solutions (PWS). In September, Citi veteran Steven Weekes became head of PWS for Southeast Asia, while in August, Hong Kong-based Lina Lim joined from JP Morgan as regional head of discretionary for Asia Pacific. Around the same time, HSBC took on DBS’s Rocky Cheung as head of investment counseling for mainland China and Taiwan, and hired Simon Hwang, formerly of Citi, as investment counseling team head for mainland China. In July, Andrew Lau returned to HSBC as desk head for the Hong Kong market, having spent the previous five years at Credit Suisse.

HSBC has also made some internal appointments in private banking. Last week, for example, it named Jackie Mau in the new role of regional head of ultra-high net worth (UHNW) for Asia Pacific. HSBC announced in March that it has established – and will expand – an UHNW team in Asia, serving clients who have assets of about $30m or more. It has since been hiring from rivals that also have UHNW units, such as JP Morgan and Credit Suisse.

The global private banking unit at HSBC saw a 22% rise in Q3 year-on-year revenues in Asia, according to the firm’s financial results. This was driven by both “investment and lending” revenues. Regional staff expenses were up 16% to US$66m as HSBC “continued to invest in business growth initiatives”. Asia accounts for 42% of HSBC’s total private banking assets, making it the single largest market.

Meanwhile, HSBC has given no indication that the civil unrest in Hong Kong is affecting it’s hiring plans in the territory. “Our third-quarter results showed very resilient performance for Hong Kong against the backdrop of what’s happening,” Antonio Simoes, head of global private banking at HSBC, told Reuters. “From a private banking perspective, we continue to have targets for Hong Kong that are very ambitious.”

Image credit: Henning-K90, Getty

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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