Jimmy Lee from Clariden Leu discusses Asian private banking

Jimmy Lee, who heads private banking for Asia at Clariden Leu, explains the Swiss bank's strategy to win business and hire people in a highly competitive environment.
 Jimmy Lee
Jimmy Lee

Swiss private bank Clariden Leu spent 2009 building its Asia team. In March the firm hired Jimmy Lee from Deutsche Bank to head private banking for Asia and, later in the year, it followed this up by announcing a new Asia strategy. We speak to Singapore-based Lee about his outlook for Clariden Leu and the wealth management industry in the region.

Clariden Leu enhanced its focus on Asia in 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis. How was the year and how did the crisis impact your business?
There has been a paradigm shift in the fundamental values of the private banking business. With the onset of the economic recovery, we have seen a greater level of focus on trust, relationship and clients' needs. These are actually basic principles and consistent with the philosophy at Clariden Leu. I can honestly say that we have never shifted away from these basics.

Having said that, wealth creation continues at a healthy pace in Asia and in support of this we've enhanced our focus in the region over the past months and have expanded our staff strength.

What is your outlook for the Asian private banking industry this year?
Asia is undeniably the fastest growing private banking region in the world and at the same time, Asian UHNWI [ultra-high-net-worth individuals] are highly sophisticated and want to be close to their relationship managers and investment specialists. This has resulted in a strong demand for high-calibre client advisers, who are truly wealth managers. Today there is a shortage of such professionals and I see the industry already putting into place significant measures to identify, train and retain such talent. This will continue for some time as the market continues to grow and mature. At the same time, all private banks must continually reassess and align their market strategy with the evolving needs of their clients and prospects in the region.

Furthermore, I expect an increasing diversity within the financial landscape as it continues to evolve with different types of financial advisors/wealth management providers entering the market in the coming months. We may see a new force of highly-focused banks competing in Asia, especially in the key wealth management hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong. Where an industry is growing, I expect to see a continuing trend of strategic moves by senior professionals.

How do you see the competitive landscape in the private banking industry in 2010? Which firms do you benchmark yourself against?
In Asia, we see our competitors hiring aggressively. This will continue in the months to come. In addition, 'pure play/highly focused' banks like us are the ones to look out for this year as client relevance and quality advice becomes imperative above anything else. Asia has the highest projected growth on a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] basis.

Do you think clients in Asia are more open, after the crisis, to using a boutique firm such as Clariden Leu for their wealth management needs, as opposed to a full-service bank or a larger firm? What distinguishes Clariden Leu from its competitors?
There are two aspects to this question. First and foremost, Clariden Leu is not a tiny little bank. We are the fifth largest Swiss private bank with a strong heritage that dates all the way back to 1755. We distinguish ourselves from our competitors by our unique service -- despite our size, we act as a boutique private bank and offer a unique advice experience to our clients.

A number of private banks are expanding currently. Are you finding it challenging to hire experienced bankers in Asia to manage your expansion?
As mentioned earlier, talented staff is hard to find and I expect this to continue throughout the year. Having said that, I am proud to tell you that we have identified and recruited some excellent people.

Has there been a significant change in the way Asian high-net-worth individuals are investing after the financial crisis?
An Asian HNWI client is a highly sophisticated investor with a profound knowledge of the financial markets. Following the crisis, we feel that clients are increasingly demanding a comprehensive range of services that go far beyond traditional wealth management and the provision of investment advice. This spectrum of services spans financial and tax advice, succession and inheritance planning, questions of financing and insurance, and advice on corporate purchases.

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