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FO expansion plans in Asia not hindered by pandemic

Separately, relationship managers are cautioned from joining another firm in the current market environment, according to a recruitment firm.  
Cropped shot of an unrecognizable male coffee shop owner hanging a "HIRING" sign in his window

With the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, businesses have taken necessary precautious through flexible working arrangement or by requiring employees to work from home.

This has led to a standstill for a number of businesses or even job losses. However, non-bank wealth managers, such as independent asset managers (IAMs) and multi-family offices operating in Asia, have carried on with their expansion plans in the region, according to Lee Chuen Li, executive director for private banking at Singapore-based executive search firm Kerry Consulting.

Lee, who assists in the hiring activities of European-based EAMs and multi-family offices, claims that her clients have continued to hire in the region despite the coronavirus.

“We are talking about firms that manage billions of assets. They are not the kind of people who would say ‘we are here today,’ and then gone tomorrow,” she told FSA recently.

“They have long-term money and I don’t think that their expansion plans in Asia are going to be hindered by this.”

The case may be true for Asia-based firms expanding in the region. For example, Hong Kong-based Raffles Family Office made two key appointments in Singapore in the past two months. It is also expecting to hire more bankers in the Lion City to expand its Southeast Asia business.

Similarly, private banks operating in Asia have continued with their hiring plans, albeit “cautiously”, Lee said.

“Every private bank will say they are hiring opportunistically [but not aggressively]. Because these days, [even before the pandemic], it is quite difficult for a private banker to bring their book along with them to another firm,” she explained.

“Not a lot of clients want to open a brand new account every time their relationship manager moves to another bank.”

Growing segments

While the IAM and multi-family office segments in Asia are not yet as mature when compared with the US and Europe, Lee believes that they have been growing in the region. On the IAM front, Hong Kong and Singapore had around 160 IAMs as of the end of 2017, which collectively managed nearly $100bn in private wealth.

Private banks are also gearing up for the opportunities presented by the growing segments, as some of their revenues are derived from back office services provided to IAMs. The independent firm may partner with a private bank for specific services, such as custodial or execution of investments.

Lee added that a number of private bankers have also made a shift to join multi-family offices or IAMs.

An example is Anson Sng, who left his head of discretionary portfolio management role at Bank of Singapore to establish his own IAM, Raintree Asset Management.

Lee believes that one of the reasons why private bankers join IAMs or multi-family offices is that “they are not conflicted into pushing their banks’ own products.”

However, she suggests that relationship managers working with any firm to stay put in their jobs at the moment.

“It is not really good form if you leave at the time like this,” she said, adding that they should prioritise the needs of their clients especially when markets have become more volatile.

Part of the Bonhill Group.