The head of private banking at Malaysia’s AmBank, Kee Kin Onn, has resigned after 12 years with the firm in order to set up a multi-family office. He handed in his notice last Friday (April 15), he revealed while speaking at AsianInvestor's Fund Selector Forum in Singapore yesterday.

The move reflects a rising trend in recent years for senior private bankers to leave large firms to set up on their own, amid growing cost and regulatory pressures on banking groups, industry consolidation and many clients' preference for what is seen as more independent advice. 

Kee's replacement is understood to be Tan Leong Theng, currently Penang-based director for northern region at AmBank. AsianInvestor could not reach the firm for comment by press time.

Kee plans to set up a presence first in Malaysia and then Singapore in the following months to offer a hybrid onshore-offshore platform. He declined to comment on who or how many would join him at the new venture, apart from to say that he has been talking to potential clients and partners, such as private banks.

The business will offer both traditional family office services and advice on compliance, governance, cross-border and regulatory issues, noted Kee. His decision to leave the bank was prompted by opportunities to serve clients who are increasingly burdened with such requirements that private banks may not always be able to address, he said.

Examples he cited were the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca) and the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for automatic exchange of financial information. Such rules have tightened the rules around the provision of financial information on American citizens' accounts held with institutions outside the US.

“As a result of Fatca, some banks have had to turn away American clients,” said Kee. “With the implementation of the CRS, I think banks have to re-assess which clients they will hold on to and which clients to let go. Clients also need to figure out what they need to do.

Kee acknowledged that some had questioned the timing of his move, given that the market environment has been challenging of late. But he said regulatory issues were proving to be an impetus for business opportunities, especially those involving cross-border transactions in private banking.

When asked about competition in the external asset manager (EAM) and multi-family office (MFO) industry, he suggested it was limited in Malaysia. “Firstly, there are only a few private banks in Malaysia. On top of that, the individuals who have dealt extensively with Malaysian regulators on compliance issue are even more limited.”

Moreover, Kee noted, many family offices are set up in Singapore and Hong Kong, so may not be familiar with the regulatory and compliance issues in markets such as Malaysia. “They may miss some of the local laws which are important to serve clients in cross-border investments.”

He conceded that growth in the EAM/MFO industry had been slower than expected, as a result of greater-than-anticipated compliance challenges. But he pointed to the US as the most regulated market in this regard, and the thousands of registered investment advisers there.