Clariden opens in Singapore

Urs Brutsch, Clariden''s managing director for Asia, talks about the private bank''s new branch license in Singapore.

What is the background to your applying for this license in Singapore?

Brutsch: The bank has made a five year plan and it wants to grow assets under management. It was quite obvious to management that a substantial part of that growth would have to come from Asia. The logical consequence of that was to open a branch in Asia and it was also logical to choose Singapore - since it has the most compelling environment as a booking centre in the region. We made the decision a year ago.

Why was Singapore chosen over Hong Kong?

Singapore is a good environment for private banks. The other thing is that Singapore works both for our Asian clients and also for European clients - who increasingly want to get out of Europe and feel very secure having their money in Singapore.

Asian clients are keener to book in Singapore than Hong Kong - for example, Taiwanese clients.

Is it necessary to have a branch in Asia?

To some extent it is a matter of convenience, but there is also a trend that clients are very comfortable putting their assets in Singapore. And for those clients who are active in foreign exchange and treasury it is clearly preferable to be in the same timezone as your treasury desk.

What kind of license did you apply for?

We obtained an offshore bank licence. This means the only people we can't take deposits from are Singapore residents in Singapore dollars. So it means we can't do retail products in Singapore, such as offering ATMs. We didn't want to do this anyway, so for us this is the perfect license.

How long has the process taken?

It took slightly less than three months from the moment we submitted the application until the time we got the license approved. We will go live in November with bookings in Singapore and into full gear as we get into 2006. We feel this will be a great boost for us in Asia, and for the bank as a whole - it is the first real branch outside Switzerland. It is a step away from the strategy of booking only in Switzerland.

Why will clients choose to bank with Clariden in Asia? What will be your unique selling point versus other private banks?

I joined the bank a year ago, and agreed with Clariden's philosophy 120%: that everything is about the client. We do not have product sales targets. Many private banks today have become distribution channels for flavour of the day products. While we have access to products - via Clariden and open architecture - we do not push products. It may sound boring but it is about relationships, relationships, relationships. Increasingly, Asian clients are getting fed up with the product pushing approach of many of the banks in Asia.

As an Asian client, how do I distinguish Clariden from Credit Suisse, which is Clariden's parent?

We have access to the same product range. But Clariden is much smaller and has fewer clients per relationship manager, and that gives us more time to spend with our clients. We also have no layers of management - that is to say, every relationship manager is a little entrepreneur who runs their own business. The flat organization structure allows the relationship manager to be a real partner to the client, and gives them a lot of empowerment in terms of pricing. Hopefully the client will notice that.

In terms of the number of private bankers you have currently, what is your growth plan?

We currently have seven relationship managers, and we hope to add five next year and three to five every year thereafter. So we will always be much smaller than the very large private banks. That helps us retain our culture.

Four of those relationship managers are in Hong Kong. We recently hired Christopher Burgess from Coutts. His mandate is also to beef up our practice in Hong Kong.

We really want to be a meaningful private bank in Asia, and within the next five years that means having $4 billion booked in Asia.

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