The Baer is back in Asia

Bank Julius Baer opens in Hong Kong and Singapore five years after it had pulled out.
Swiss private bank and institutional money manager Bank Julius Baer has opened offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, re-establishing itself in Asia after a five-year hiatus.

Thomas Meier, Zurich-based CEO for Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, joined the firm last year after running the Asia private banking business for Credit Suisse. He says the firm probably made the right decision in 2001 when it closed its private bank and asset management operations in Asia.

ôTo do business in Asia requires you to invest an amount that allows you to make a difference,ö he says. The firm, SwitzerlandÆs third-largest private bank after UBS and Credit Suisse, lacked the heft at the time.

Last year, however, it completed the acquisition of several businesses, including hedge fund shop GAM and three Swiss private banks, including Bank Lugano. The deals gave it the required scale. Its market cap doubled to $11 billion, and its total assets under management have risen to CHF320 billion ($257 billion), of which CHF123 billion is in private banking and CHF197 billion in asset management.

GAM has offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore, and will represent Julius Baer Asset Management in the region.

Meier says the private bank is starting ôvirtually from scratchö in terms of assets from Asia. ôWe have reached a critical size. We canÆt simply not be present in Asia if we want credibility as an international firm. The acquisitions have given us the financial means to do this.ö

Singapore will serve as the booking centre, building on Bank LuganoÆs existing operation there, while Hong Kong will handle investment advice. Meier says the Hong Kong and Singapore combined staff number around 100 people, including front and back offices, but that this could grow to 200 by the end of 2008. Thanks to its acquisitions the bank now sources a little under 10% of assets from emerging markets, and intends to grow this to 25% over the next five years.

The bank continues to work with Julius Baer Asset Management and GAM to create products but it adheres to an open-architecture format, Meier says.

The private bank may be new to Asia but its top personnel have a long history in the region. Meier served as North Asia CEO for Credit Suisse in Hong Kong from 2002-2004, before which he served as the bankÆs Singapore market head.

Andrea Marco Benenati will serve as CEO for North Asia at Julius Baer. He previously ran Korea for Credit SuisseÆs private bank, and has also advised Korean and Japanese clients for UBS out of Hong Kong.

Julius BaerÆs Zurich-based CEO for private banking is Alex Widmer, who has run Singapore and Tokyo operations for Credit Suisse.
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