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UBP in the press 27.03.2024

From trading to pure play: UBP’s Ivan Wong shares the beauty of a boutique bank

From trading to pure play: UBP’s Ivan Wong shares the beauty of a boutique bank

Asian Private Banker, Carly Lau (22.03.2024) - The beauty of working for a pure play is the core focus on wealth management, where the business is not subjected to the aggressive risk culture associated with investment banking, nor exposed to the cyclical corporate lending of commercial banking.

This is according to Ivan Wong, the Regional Head for North Asia and Chief Executive Officer of UBP’s Hong Kong branch.

“This is what our clients need: providing them with a safe environment where our bankers add value for their clients,” Wong told Asian Private Banker.

Wong joined the bank from HSBC Global Private Banking, where he spent over 20 years. However, many may not know Wong started his career as a trader and initially spent over 20 years working in sales & trading (S&T) before moving to private banking in 2015.

“As I have gained more experience, I felt it was time for me to tackle an area that I think has a lot of growth potential, and somewhere that I can have a longer runway for my career development. Private banking and wealth management tick a lot of those boxes,” said Wong.

Wong is now in his thirtieth year in the banking industry and is one of the few private banking heads with a long background in investment banking.

One bank versus pure play

Having worked in universal banks such as Citi and HSBC, Wong acknowledged that the universal bank model offers many advantages for big banks to drive for one-bank solutions or cross-selling.

However, he said the private banking business represents a relatively small proportion of their overall business. And, to cover a larger clientele, such as the mass affluent segment, the key factors for many banks have turned to product standardisation, streamlined processes, and data-driven analysis business models.

“However, these approaches are inherently inconsistent with what I consider to be the essence of private banking, which prioritises customisation, differentiation, flexibility, and agility,” he stressed.

“Because I am committed to the principles of private banking, I value an institution that prioritises these and focuses on those core values, like UBP.”

Right team, right people

Since joining the bank 17 months ago, Wong’s focus has been twofold: forming the right investment team and hiring the right talent.

While we are focused on growth, we are committed to a strategic approach that prioritises our clients’ long-term interests. Rather than simply pushing out more products, our goal is to ensure that every decision we make adds lasting value to our client relationships.

UBP restructured the Asia investment team in early 2023 and established a dual-head structure for North Asia and Southeast Asia. Despite the many synergies between North Asia and South Asia, he added that this strategic move enabled the bank to customise investment offerings to better suit the diverse needs of clients across both regions.

The Bank has since hired a new Head of Investment Services, a Head of Equity Advisory, a Head of Funds, and a dedicated Hedge Fund Specialist for the North Asia region.

In the second half of 2023, Wong said his focus had turned to hiring the right talent with a strengthened investment platform in place. He hired 10 new bankers by the end of 2023.

“I wanted to ensure that we prioritised quality over quantity, so we have been gradually building that up, and we will continue the momentum into 2024,” he said.

“The good news is that many of our bankers have brought in a healthy inflow into the platform. This momentum has continued to grow, particularly in the first six or seven weeks of 2024,” Wong highlighted.

Headwinds = opportunities

The current market cycle has lower capital market activity and a relatively slower China business. Wong said this is the time when pure plays can add value for clients.

“We are aware of the various headwinds in China, but that is also exactly what I consider to be opportunities,” he said, adding that the choppy market over the past year has caused many clients to realise the importance of proper wealth planning, wealth management, portfolio construction, asset allocation, and diversification.

“These are areas where investment-focused private banks like UBP can add value to our clients,” he said. “The past two years were exactly the type of market environment that highlighted the benefits of certain asset classes, such as hedge funds and private markets. These are the areas that play to our strengths.”

Ivan Wong Ivan Wong
Head of Region North Asia

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