Zurich Switzerland, September 13, 2010-Julius Baer, the Swiss private bank, is considering setting up a dual head office in Singapore as part of a drive to make fast-growing Asia its “second home”.
The Zurich-based bank, which had assets under management of SFr166bn ($163bn) at the end of June, has increased the proportion of such assets in Asia from zero to 10 per cent since 2006, and is targeting 25 per cent in 3-5 years, according to Boris Collardi, chief executive.
Mr Collardi said in an interview in Singapore that it was “not realistic” to shift the bank’s headquarters from Zurich because of Julius Baer’s 120-year-history in Switzerland.
“But I can imagine that we would have more than one head office — a head office in Switzerland with a second head office in Asia, with competencies devolved to it,” he said.
Mr Collardi said the Asia headquarters would probably be in Singapore, a key centre for private banking in the region. Julius Baer employs more than 300 staff in the city-state, compared with 23 four years ago.
Mr Collardi said he would start spending one month a year in Singapore from next year, in addition to up to six trips a year to the island state.
The bank employs about 100 staff in Hong Kong, another Asian private banking centre.
The bank’s plans to beef up its top management presence in Asia echo HSBC’s decision to relocate Michael Geoghegan, group chief executive, from London to Hong Kong last year.
Switzerland’s private banking sector, the world’s biggest, has come under pressure recently because of an erosion of traditional secrecy following a US government investigation into UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank.
Mr Collardi’s refusal to countenance a break with Zurich puts Julius Baer in a different category to UK banks such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and Barclays which have suggested they might abandon London if a British banking inquiry calls for banks to be broken up.
Mr Collardi stressed that Julius Baer’s strategy was to expand rapidly in Asia while growing its Swiss business. The bank last year bought the Swiss private banking assets of ING Group for $510m, but not the Asian assets, which went to Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp of Singapore for $1.46bn.
Many private bankers say the costs of expansion are rising fast in Asia because of a “war for talent” that is pushing the cost of relationship managers and senior bankers to excessive levels.
Source: Financial Times