Business Finance International

UBS breaks ranks with push for mid-tier Asian millionaires

Image: A UBS advertisement is displayed on top of a commercial building in Hong Kong, China May 2, 2017. Picture taken May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

By Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – UBS Group AG plans to hire about 100 wealth management client advisors over the next two years in Hong Kong, the biggest wealth hub in Asia-Pacific, to grab a bigger share of the fast-growing mid-tier millionaire segment.

The Swiss bank’s sharpening focus on the middle of the wealth market comes as some global banks including Standard Chartered  are raising the threshold for their private banking clients amid growing competition from regional players.

“For us, the sweet spot is high-net-worth clients with investable assets of between $2 million and $50 million,” Jean-Claude Humair, regional market manager for Hong Kong at UBS, a bank known for its billionaire client list, told Reuters.

“We see tremendous untapped opportunity in the entrepreneurs segment in Hong Kong,” he said. “The plan is to hire 50 client advisors in Hong Kong every year for the next two years to cater for these HNWIs (high-net-worth individuals).”

With $286 billion worth of client assets as of end 2016 and about 1,100 client advisers, UBS is the largest private bank in Asia, followed by Citigroup and Credit Suisse Group, as per industry tracker Asian Private Banker.

During the first quarter, a rebound in markets trading generated record wealth management revenues and profit before tax at the Swiss bank in Asia-Pacific, which has emerged as a key battleground for global wealth managers.

With more than five million people boasting at least $1 million in liquid assets, Asia is the fastest-growing wealth region globally, according to data from Capgemini.

UBS is shifting focus because the mid-segment is growing faster than the top-tier, or the ultra-high-net worth segment, which the bank classifies as individuals with more than $50 million in investable surplus.


The high-net-worth business offers a better return on assets than that offered by the ultra-rich segment, UBS’s Humair said. The bank already covered three out of five billionaires in the region and almost 90 percent in Hong Kong, he added.

With a host of local and regional banks crowding the low-and-mid-segment of the market, many of UBS’s global private banking rivals have raised their minimum wealth thresholds in the last couple of years to jump clear of rivals.

Standard Chartered’s private banking business plans to raise the threshold from $2 million to at least $5 million over the next two years to optimize resources, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman said.

She added the bank would continue to serve existing clients with assets of $2 million to $5 million.

JPMorgan <JPM.N> last year doubled its target client segment to at least $10 million in Asia.

Meanwhile, regional banks including DBS Group <DBSM.SI> have bolstered their presence in the millionaire segment via acquisitions. DBS, Singapore’s biggest lender, on Tuesday reported record first-quarter profit for its wealth management business.

“I do believe we continue to gain share,” DBS Group CEO Piyush Gupta said. “It’s mostly from smaller players. I don’t think we are gaining market share against UBS, for example. UBS continues to grow as fast, if not faster than we do.”

According to Capgemini, the ultra rich segment – which it defines as individuals with $30 million or more in assets – make up just 0.7 percent of Asia’s wealthy population, with the rest accounted for by those with $1-$30 million in assets.

Total household wealth in Asia Pacific grew by 4.5 percent in 2016 from a year ago, compared to a drop of 1.7 percent in Europe and 2 percent growth in North America, according to Credit Suisse global wealth report.

(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; Additional reporting by Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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