Three boutique private banks have hired new Asia heads -- Stephan Repkow has jumped ship to Union Bancaire Privée, Vincent Duhamel has joined Lombard Odier, and Pictet has hired Claude Haberer. All three are in leadership roles charged with building the Asia-Pacific business at their firms.

Repkow has joined Union Bancaire Privée (UBP) as CEO of private banking in the region. He will be based in Singapore, where UBP has its regional private banking headquarters. UBP has had a capital markets services licence under the Singapore Securities and Futures Act since early 2004 and is currently in the process of applying for a merchant bank licence.

In September last year, Michel Longhini joined UBP to head private banking. He also took a seat on UBP’s executive committee. Longhini, who had earlier headed BNP’s international wealth management business, was primarily entrusted with developing UBP’s business in new markets in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In a written statement issued last week, Longhini said Repkow will implement UBP’s strategy, build out its team and develop its activities in Asia-Pacific -- a region that Longhini termed one of UBP’s “main development axes” with regard to its expansion plans.

Repkow was previously chief investment officer at Swiss-Asia Financial Services, a Singapore-registered fund management company. His work experience also includes tenures at Deutsche asset management, Citi private bank and BNP Paribas in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie, more commonly known as Lombard Odier, has hired Duhamel to head Asia-Pacific and Japan, based out of Hong Kong. His job will be to develop both the private banking and the institutional investment managers businesses. Duhamel and Bart van Leemput, who leads Lombard Odier's private banking teams in the region, will work together.

Most recently, Duhamel was chief executive officer at Sail Advisors, a family office-cum-investment management group. He has also worked at Goldman Sachs asset management as head of Asia ex-Japan. At Goldman he was responsible for both investment management and for developing relationships with institutional investors. Other firms at which Duhamel has honed his experience include State Street Global Advisors and Pictet.

Duhamel has a dual reporting line to Anne-Marie de Weck, who is responsible for private banking, and to Hubert Keller, who is responsible for Lombard Odier Investment Managers.

Rounding out the trio of hires, Swiss private bank Pictet & Cie earlier this month appointed Claude Haberer to head Pictet wealth management in Asia. Haberer will continue to be based in Hong Kong from where he headed BNP’s private bank for North Asia between 2005 and 2009. He relinquished this role to Thierry Dana in September 2009 and instead became head of key clients for the French bank's wealth management business. Haberer resigned from BNP last month.

At Pictet, Haberer is taking over from Jean-Claude Erné, who has been head of wealth management in Asia for 10 years and is now returning to Switzerland to take on new responsibilities with the bank.

Pictet and Lombard Odier are both structured as partnerships, while UBP is a family-owned bank. Some specialists say private bankers are attracted to the boutique firms because their structures enable true open architecture, i.e. private bankers do not have to push in-house products from other parts of the bank. However, larger outfits such as Citi private bank refute this by saying they too offer completely open architecture and, in highly competitive markets, would not be able to win clients without this.

The three hires come at a time when other wealth management firms and divisions are also trying to fine-tune their private banking strategy for Asia, which has become a high-growth area for the wealth management industry. In January, BNP announced a new coverage plan for wealth management in Asia-Pacific under Mignonne Cheng. And last summer, Credit Suisse scrapped its head of North Asia and head of Southeast Asia positions in favour of a structure that has 10 heads of geographic markets or regions, all reporting directly to Credit Suisse’s Asia-Pacific head of private banking Marcel Kreis.

Such moves are resulting in increased competition for talent, which is benefitting private bankers with strong experience as they are able to command their price. On an earnings call in October last year that is posted on seekingalpha, UBS chief financial officer John Cyan conceded that personnel expenses for wealth management had increased. “There has certainly been some inflation in the personnel expenses, particularly in Asia where the market for wealth management client advisers in particular is quite hot,” said Cyan.