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UBP in the press 14.06.2024

UBP's Strategic Vision of Pure-Play Private Banking in Southeast Asia

UBP's Strategic Vision of Pure-Play Private Banking in Southeast Asia

Hubbis (05.06.2024) - Hubbis met with Eric Morin recently to learn more about UBP’s current momentum in Southeast Asia, the bank’s key focus areas, his strategic priorities, and his vision for the future of private banking in the region.

Eric Morin arrived at Union Bancaire Privée (UBP) in 2015 and moved from Hong Kong to Singapore in 2023 to take up his current role as Region Head for Southeast Asia and Chief Executive of UBP’s Singapore branch, where he is responsible for steering the strategic growth agenda for the region. He first made his mark by developing and expanding the bank’s North Asia business, covering Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China and the Philippines. With over 25 years of a distinguished career spanning commercial banking, investment banking, and private banking across France, the Middle East and Asia, Eric has acquired a deep understanding of the financial and wealth management markets and their dynamics.

Eric opened the conversation by highlighting UBP’s mission since the Swiss bank embarked on a significant expansion in Asia in 2016. “The bank remains fully committed to its vision in Asia, having set about – and I would say, having achieved – the goal of creating a highly credible Asian private bank with Swiss DNA, rather than a Swiss private bank operating in Asia, which would be a different value proposition. There is no doubt in my mind that we are entirely credible and well-respected as an Asian bank, with our Asia team covering Asian markets for our predominantly Asian clients.”

The Coutts Deal and Building in Asia

He recalls that although UBP had some presence in Asia prior to 2016, the 2015 acquisition of the international wealth management operations of Coutts from the Royal Bank of Scotland marked a significant turning point for the bank in the region. The deal, which included Coutts' business in Asia, significantly boosted UBP's presence and capabilities.

“The acquisition provided the catalyst for a major transformation in both our intent and scale in Asia,” he explains. “Before that deal, we were only about 30-strong in the region. We successfully integrated the teams, retained key talent, and kept most of the clients, allowing us to build from a much stronger base.” Today, UBP operates two businesses in Asia: a wealth management operation, employing over 300 people in Hong Kong and Singapore, and an asset management arm, with a presence in Hong Kong, Japan and mainland China.

Spanning the Region

Eric delves further into the core characteristics of UBP in Asia, noting the strategic advantage of having a significant presence in both Singapore and Hong Kong to cover Southeast Asia and North Asia, and to offer clients these two main booking centres.

Eric emphasises the interconnectedness of their operations, discussing UBP’s pioneering role in servicing Greater China clients from Singapore, which began six years ago. This initiative was partly driven by rising interest from Taiwanese clients in conducting business in Singapore, motivated by geopolitical factors.

“These clients initially opened accounts, then shifted increasing amounts of funds to those accounts. The final phase has been a noticeable increase in wealthy people and families relocating to Singapore,” he explains.

Drawing Wealth to Singapore's Shores

“They continue to be attracted by Singapore’s ecosystem of professionals, the quality of the environment, and the neutrality, and they like it here,” he enthuses. “This is a broad trend that we see amongst many North Asian clients, spearheaded by clients from Taiwan in particular. UBP has a good reputation amongst them, and they appreciate that the bank is entirely committed to expanding its engagement with the Greater China region and enhancing the connectivity between North Asia and Southeast Asia.”

Asia – A Major Pillar of UBP’s Portfolio

Eric observes that a crucial aspect of UBP's strategy in Asia is the unwavering support from the bank’s controlling family shareholders, who are deeply committed to the region.

“This commitment is evidenced by the significant increase in our number of bankers in 2023, underscoring UBP's dynamic growth and its appeal to professionals from top financial institutions across Asia,” he elucidates.

With a total global AUM equivalent to CHF 140 billion, of which Asia accounts for approximately 14%, the bank in this region is clearly a significant and growing business within the group.

Eric adds that UBP also boasts a robust financial standing as part of its overall value proposition, showcasing a high tier-one capital ratio of 28.9%, a strong liquidity ratio, and an AA credit rating, all key factors that reassure clients about the bank's stability.

UBP Evolves with Strategic Vision

He then discusses what he perceives as the evolution of private banking in the region. He anticipates that banks will remain relationship-oriented, but that AI and technology will support and enhance these relationships, particularly in improving access to information, client communication channels, and market analysis.

“I believe in the future of private banking, and that it will continue to be a people business,” he states.

Addressing Client Needs and Expectations

Eric highlights the key challenges facing HNW and UHNW clients in the region, noting that they grapple with increasingly complex global markets and ever-more bewildering investment, taxation, regulatory, and geopolitical environments.

“This underscores the importance of building and refining robust, sustainable, diversified, risk-mitigated, and secure portfolios for the protection and growth of their family wealth,” he comments. “As a family-run business, we possess a profound understanding of these challenges, and distinguish ourselves with our ability to discreetly advise on family governance and key facets of estate, succession and legacy planning.”

Eric then outlines UBP's recruitment strategy, which targets senior bankers with an acute understanding of their clients and a hunger for a resilient and agile private banking platform that grants them the autonomy to offer the right product and advisory mix across diverse markets and assets, free from the constraints of micromanagement or product pushing.

“We adopt a holistic approach to client wealth management, diverging sharply from the industry norm of treating private banking as a product-centric or commoditised business,” he says. “We advocate bespoke client solutions, facilitated by senior bankers managing a select number of clients to ensure the correct level of attention and personalised service.”

Filtering, Refining, and Nurturing

He explains that in 2023, he personally met with over 120 target bankers, recruiting fewer than one-quarter of them for the Southeast Asia branch through their meticulous processes.

“That is quite a good rate, actually, which shows that we indeed have the right appeal, characteristics, and culture to attract top talent,” he states. “Not only are we coordinated in our approach, but we are also successful in projecting and communicating our vision.”

Eric also takes pride in UBP’s focused approach to working with multi-family offices (MFOs) and single-family offices (SFOs), highlighting their distinct approaches and tailored strategies for each.

Working with the Independents

Eric notes that UBP has an extensive expertise with MFOs, particularly in Switzerland, where the bank handles substantial business in this segment. The strategy focuses on engaging with the larger MFOs, preferring a limited number with higher AUM levels to ensure more efficient and effective relationships. UBP collaborates closely with these offices through its External Asset Manager (EAM) desk, which centralises and optimises the delivery of the bank’s comprehensive product, advisory, and operational suite.

We provide a consistent proposition and top-quality, dedicated service to MFOs and the larger independent wealth management business across all our key markets. It is a crucial part of our overall activities.

The Bespoke SFO Offering

Eric further explains that the bank’s approach to SFOs is highly bespoke and focused. “We handle SFOs with surgical precision, collaborating with them on a range of products and services, from custody to comprehensive estate planning and family governance. Our SFO clientele stem from the extensive client knowledge within the group and the sophisticated network of UBP’s top bankers. We leverage all the resources of the bank in Switzerland and globally to deliver a premier proposition to these families.”

Key Priorities

Eric’s top priority is establishing UBP as the pure-play of choice for ultra-high-net-worth individuals in Southeast Asia. “I am highly focused on enhancing and projecting our bespoke services to ensure the bank stands out in the increasingly competitive wealth management landscape,” he states.

Eric aims to amplify UBP's brand and visibility as a leading money manager for HNW and UHNW families. This involves ongoing and strategic efforts to improve the bank's reputation and to highlight its specialist services and deep understanding of affluent clients’ unique needs in this region.

In addition, Eric and his team continue to explore organic growth and strategic partnerships, especially in markets where UBP lacks a physical presence. They selectively embark on some effective, but non-binding partnerships in the region that allow UBP to offer services such as discretionary portfolio management, to bring their offshore expertise onshore.

Building on High-Quality Foundations

Eric is candid about the challenges that come with his ambitious goals. The competitive nature of the wealth management world requires continuous innovation and effective recruitment of talented staff. He acknowledges the hurdles in maintaining a distinctive product offering in a commoditised marketplace, emphasising UBP’s focus on private markets and alternative assets as key differentiators.

“Over the past five years, UBP has actively developed its private market capabilities, committing substantial resources to create unique investment opportunities for clients, and these efforts are paying off,” he states. “This is part and parcel of the broad, consistent, and forward-looking initiatives I have articulated.”

He says they will continue to refine and elevate their offering in every way possible. “The vision is a strategic blend of client-centric service enhancement, brand building, and innovative growth strategies to secure a leading position in Asia's boutique banking sector, while managing industry challenges with agility and foresight,” he concludes.

Pure-Play private Banking
Eric Morin Eric Morin
Region Head South East Asia and Chief Executive, Singapore

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