Gottardo to go

In arguably one of the contrarian strategies of our time, a private bank decides the future is in Italy not Asia.

If you asked a straw poll of private bankers where they see the greatest growth in the next 10-20 years in assets - Italy or Asia - there would probably be few that would say the former.

However, a few days ago Banca del Gottardo announced internally that its own shareholder, Swiss Life had drawn that very conclusion.

Banca del Gottardo opened up its private banking operations in Hong Kong in 1999, under the auspices of its former shareholder, Sumitomo Bank. Swiss Life then bought 99.84% of the Swiss-Italian private bank only days later from Sumitomo. Finally it has decided enough is enough, and will close its Asian office.

Head of Asian private banking, Thomas Graf will go to Zurich for the bank, where an Asian desk is to be set up. The bank has six relationship managers in Hong Kong and three in Taiwan and save one, all will lose their jobs when the bank finally closes its doors in July. However, given the growth in private banking, many of them will easily find homes elsewhere, according to one headhunter.

"You need a critical mass to be here," says Graf. "Our shareholder thinks their return on investment will be higher in Italy, which is our major market. Banca del Gottardo intends to refocus on Europe."

Swiss Life has also pulled out of trying to win a life insurance license in China.