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A land of hope, growth and glory
Published on Friday, 23 Sep 2011
Shanghai’s Pudong financial district, the preferred base of regional banks’ mainland operations.
Photo: Bloomberg
Sermon Kwan

The apparently never-ending story of mainland China growth is drawing the interest of banks from economies long-admired for their own skill at interweaving laissez-faire verve into a state-driven economic model.

Which takes us to the Lion City, as it increasingly looks north of Southeast Asia for emerging opportunities.

"Regionally, mainland China has experienced the fastest growth in the number of super-wealthy households, defined as those with more than US$100 million (HK$780 million) in assets-under-management," says Sermon Kwan, Bank of Singapore's managing director, head of Greater China and chief executive, Hong Kong Branch.

"And with the increasing demand for private banking services, the Bank of Singapore - as the only dedicated private bank headquartered in Singapore - plans to grow its mainland China business through branding, strategic recruitment and leveraging on its parent company OCBC."

The Bank of Singapore's mainland China network consists of 14 main and sub-branches in eight key cities, including its headquarters in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Xiamen. If this plan meets expectations, the bank will see its staffing requirement rise, with Putonghua-speaking candidates getting priority.

The bank now employs over 750 staff, and is carving out a regional presence, but with a particular focus on the Greater China region.

Job-hunters in the banking sector, with the appropriate language skills, should explore the new frontier of private banking, configured for the new generation of mainland high net-worth individuals, says Kwan.

"The bank is setting up a private banking operation within OCBC China, subject to regulatory approval. Establishing a dedicated private banking operation in China will enable OCBC China to leverage on the experience, expertise and product platform of Bank of Singapore to develop and offer a wider range of private wealth products and services that will complement the current suite of consumer and corporate banking solutions currently offered by OCBC China," says Kwan, elaborating on the remarkable blossoming of Lion City banking acumen in the once-forbidding Land of the Dragon.

With mainland China spawning millionaires by the jet-load every week, Bank of Singapore believes it is in a position to lock into a win-win relationship with the country's new wealthy.

"We have seen an increasing number of affluent Chinese individuals looking for different investment opportunities outside China, as a way to diversify their risks and enhance returns," Kwan says.

A banking veteran with over three decades of banking experience across both North America and East Asia, Kwan has impressed observers and China-watchers with his shrewd moves, and strategic positioning of the young bank, which was formed in January last year, after OCBC completed its acquisition of ING's Asian private bank for US$1.4 billion, and merged it with its own private bank.

Since this Asian banking milestone, Kwan has cultivated the Bank of Singapore as a private bank with a palpably Asian psyche. 

While the Bank of Singapore is forcing a pioneering path in mainland China, other banks on its periphery are also noting - and acting on - the China-growth multiplier effect.

The Taipei-headquartered Fubon Bank's Hong Kong operation - Fubon Bank Hong Kong - acquired a 19.99 per cent stake in Xiamen Bank in December 2008 and opened a representative office in Dongguan in December 2009, becoming the first Taipei-headquartered bank to operate a representative office in Guangdong province.

This representative office is authorised to engage in activities such as consultation, liaison and market research. The bank's long-term strategy, and those of other regional banks, is hard to read at present. But Fubon is likely to be paying strong attention to the high net-worth end of the market. And, for job-hunters, the overriding requirement is Putonghua.

A firm grasp of Chinese information technology methods is also a big plus for candidates.

 


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