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Syz closes HK asset management arm

Switzerland's Banque Syz closed its asset management arm in Hong Kong to focus on European markets as Asia's asset and wealth management industry consolidation continues.

Syz Asset Management (Asia)’s licenses to conduct asset management, dealing in and advising on securities activities were removed on December 22, according to the Securities and Futures Commission. 

The firm first received its asset management license in Hong Kong in 2004.

A Geneva-based Banque Syz spokesman confirmed the closing of the Hong Kong office, saying that the group’s asset management arm has decided to center its activities in Geneva and focus on the continental European markets.

Syz has both wealth management and asset management under one roof. But it did not have a wealth management representative office in Asia.

Syz distributed its products in Asia and key markets included Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, as previously reported.

Although the firm’s Oyster funds will no longer be distributed in Hong Kong with the closing of the office, clients in the region will still be served from the Geneva headquarters, according to the spokesman.

Those clients are institutional investors, the spokesman said. They will be handled by a team under the leadership of Nico Cacciabue, Syz Asset Management’s head of key accounts. 

When asked about whether the firm has plans to join the mutual recognition of funds scheme between Switzerland and Hong Kong, the spokesman said it is waiting for final implementation before taking any further step.

The Hong Kong office had five employees, the spokesman said, with its Asia head of sales, Suzanna Wong, leaving the firm as the office closed.

Wong joined Vontobel Asset Management as its Hong Kong-based head of intermediary sales for Asia, according to a Vontobel statement released on Tuesday. She is responsible for managing relationships with intermediary channels in Singapore and Hong Kong, with an emphasis on private banks, it said.

Earlier expansion

Syz’s closure of the Hong Kong office is a turnaround from earlier expansion plans in the region. 

The firm was in discussions with fund houses in China and was also interested in Asia’s private client base, Eric Syz, the group’s CEO, told FSA in March 2015.

“We want to cater to those clients, but they want to be served locally and not have people flying in from Switzerland,” Syz said at the time.

However, he added that the talent shortage in Asia made it very hard to recruit financial professionals.

According to the spokesman, Syz has no plans to develop the wealth management business in Asia.

Private banking and wealth management firms have been attracted to the growing pool of wealth in Asia, but have found it difficult to replicate the discretionary business in Europe and to gain traction, Mark Wightman, EY’s Singapore-based partner for wealth and management advisory, said in a previous FSA interview.

In addition, scale is required, and firms with relatively small assets under management in Asia have a tough time competiting. 

A number of banks streamlined their operations during the past year by selling off Asia wealth management units.

These banks include Edmond de Rothschild closing of its Hong Kong branch; the sale of ABN Amro’s private banking operations in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai to LGT; Bank of Singapore’s acquisition of Barclay’s wealth and investment management business; DZ Privatbank shutting its Singapore branch and referring its clients to BOS with no financial charge; and UBP’s acquisition of Coutts’ wealth management operations in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Similar to Syz, EdR had plans to grow its private banking business in Asia. Before it closed its Hong Kong branch in early December, it expanded its private banking business in the SAR by hiring six bankers and advisors.

Part of the Mark Allen Group.