Asia Wealth Management Hits Snag With Bankers Stuck at Home

Within the wealth business of UBS, Asia contributed just $200 million to its $9.2 billion net new money in the second quarter, down from $1.1 billion a year earlier. But the region was still its second biggest in terms of profits, buoyed by trading. JPMorgan’s number of new private banking clients in Asia dropped more than 10% in the first half from a year earlier, even as brokerage activity increased more than 50%.
A Shanghai-based executive at a Chinese wealth manager, who asked not to be named discussing a private matter, said new offshore clients fell more than 30% in the first half from a year earlier. A Singapore-based regional head for a European private bank said he hasn’t been able to bring in any new customers since February.
Private banks require anything from $1 million to more than $10 million to be parked with them, and Asia is fertile ground for that kind of cash. Financial wealth in the region, excluding Japan, has grown 10.8% annually since 2009, almost double the global rate, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group. It’s seen growing 5.1% to 7.4% annually until 2024, clocking the fastest pace in the world, the report said.
“The second half is going to be critical,” said Kam Shing Kwang, chief executive officer of JPMorgan’s Asia private bank. “We’re learning to adapt to this new world because not everything has to come to a halt.”
Some banks are faring better, in particular those with extensive local networks — often via their retail presence or through partnerships. Bank of Singapore, which oversees $113 billion in wealth assets, reported a rise in assets of $9 billion in the second quarter, both from new assets and market gains.
Getting existing clients to add more cash amid resurgent markets has also provided a cushion to the difficulties in wooing new clients. Credit Suisse Group AG saw net new assets in its Asian private banking business swell by 80% in the second quarter after the trading boom.
UBS has accelerated its digital push as transactions on its e-trading platform in Asia rose fourfold from December to June, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman said in an email. More than 50% of its equity trades in the region are now executed through the online platform.
Another boon has been an easing regulatory environment. Authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore have temporarily pulled back verification rules, allowing for video conferencing and digital submissions of paperwork such as deeds, licenses and signatures.
Julius Baer Group Ltd., based in Zurich, started digital onboarding pilot in Switzerland this year and is planning to roll that out in Asia, according to Asia-Pacific Chief Operating Officer Andreas Zingg.
“As a bank we’re convinced that many of the changes on how we engage with clients are here to stay in the long run and this includes further digitalization of onboarding new clients,” he said.
Starting at the end of next month, Bank of Singapore is going to extend digital onboarding of prospective clients anywhere as long as they want to have their assets managed in Singapore, said Sonjoy Phukan, the chief operating officer at the bank. Pending approval, this will later be offered to prospective clients looking to open accounts in Hong Kong.
“It’s a given that movement restrictions as a result of global Covid-19 pandemic have affected the ability of our relationship managers to conduct in-person meetings with both existing clients and prospective clients,” said Phukan.
The bank has still been able to open new accounts by moving checks to video conferencing and other digital means, he said. But it’s also anticipating a slowdown in the growth of new assets in the second half of the year.
(Adds detail on UBS in 12th paragraph.)
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