Shenzhen-based China Merchants Bank (CMB), which operates China’s largest private bank, plans to more than double the number of its relationship managers (RM) in Hong Kong to around 500 in the next three years, and could add senior hires in the city, AsianInvestor can reveal.

Currently, CMB has about 200 RMs in Hong Kong, so hiring so many new RMs will not be easy, Wang Jing, general manager of CMB Private Bank admitted. The bank is also seeking to fill some senior roles for various business lines in the city, including research and product development.

“We feel the pace of talent nurturing is behind that of the increase of client base. We often feel pressure on this front,” Wang told AsianInvestor.

CMB’s private banking assets under management (AUM) in Hong Kong more than doubled during 2016 to hit $25.8 billion at the end of the year. Meanwhile, the number of private bank clients stood at 8,832 by year’s end.

The bank wants to expand this more with the addition of the new RMs, but Wang said finding people that fit into the bank could be tricky.

“The talent pool in Hong Kong is good, but we have different corporate culture being a mainland financial institution. So there is a process for newly joined talents to adapt to our culture,” she said.

She added that finding suitable candidates for senior roles isn’t simple either. It’s “not an issue about the compensation”, she added, but the fact that many executives in global financial institutions are just responsible for one or some financial segments. However, CMB is basing its overseas private bank operation in Hong Kong so the executives might end up as international business heads.

“We look for talents who have more comprehensive skill sets and business visions”, Wang said.

“We are in the early stage of development and are setting up the business, rather than being in an existing framework, so our requirement for talents is different,” she added.

Culture challenges

Chris Tse, vice chairman of the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong told AsianInvestor that he has seen Chinese institutions struggle with similar issues.

He noted that they “can pay good to attract talents”, but it’s not easy for them to poach talents from established global banks because the culture and operations are so different.

CMB started its first private banking service in Shenzhen in 2007, and began building a global private banking platform in Hong Kong in 2012 through its wholly-owned subsidiary in the city, Wing Lung Bank.

The bank also has an overseas private bank presence via a New York office, which it opened in April 2016 and Singapore, which was established in April this year. 

In Hong Kong, besides Wing Lung, CMB also has a private banking operation at China Merchants Bank International Capital (CMBI), the group's investment bank unit from 2016, and a new wealth management centre that opened in August this year.

Globally, CMB ranked 15th in consultancy Scorpio Partnership's latest ranking of the biggest private banks by global AUM, published in August. This was five places higher than last year’s ranking, thanks to the 11% growth in its assets under management to $265 billion in the first half of this year. It had total overseas private banking AUM of $26 billion at the end of 2016.

CMB is not the only private bank on a hiring spree. Deutsche Bank Wealth Management said in June that it planned to hire around 50 new client-facing employees covering high-net-worth individuals in Asia this year. That number accounts for about half of the total additional hires that it is targeting worldwide.