Chinatrust Commercial Bank (CTCB) officially launched its international private banking business in Hong Kong and Singapore yesterday, with the aim of differentiating itself by its status as a home-grown Asian firm and its adoption of a fee-based model.

The move is an opportunity to capitalise on the significant wealth shift from west to east says Robert Russell, head of private banking at the Taiwanese firm, which will target ethnic Chinese clients in particular.

CTCB rounded out it private banking management team in Singapore with the hire of Dennis Harhalakis, who started in January as head of products. He was previously regional head of structured products and securities for ANZ Bank's retail and wealth business, also based in the Lion City.

The senior line-up also includes Michael Coglin, who joined in November as head of investments, having left hist post as Asia chief investment officer at Bank Sarasin in May; and Rajagopal Govindarajoo, who started last June as head of operations and was previously Singapore branch manager at Falcon Private Bank.

In Hong Kong, Amanda Huang, Ringo Lau and Chinatrust veteran Phyllis Yang head the relationship manager teams. Huang will join in May from ABN Amro in Hong Kong, while Lau joined in November from BSI Investment Advisors in Hong Kong, where he was deputy managing director.

Russell himself joined CTCB in April last year, having previously been global head of private client solutions at Falcon Private Bank in Singapore and before that chief product officer at Credit Suisse Private Bank in the same city.

The company plans to hire another 20 staff across the two offices before the end of this year.

The new business is driven by the company’s desire for continued overseas expansion. “Chinatrust has a growing footprint in and beyond Asia,” says Russell. “The new business line will help to diversify our business and revenue sources outside of our domestic market, where we are already a recognised industry leader in commercial and retail banking and wealth management services.”

The external impetus for the new business is “the obvious gap between the growth of wealth in Asia and the small number of Asian private banks”, he says, “We are determined to become a premier Chinese international private bank.

“This wealth shift [to Asia] is going to create a demand for diversification,” argues Russell. “Private bank clients will typically have relationships with more than one institution. We expect Chinatrust will be attractive to many clients as a strong and highly rated Chinese bank that is able to compete with, and differentiate itself from, established European and American names."

The firm sees the Chinese diaspora as its natural client base. “The core client pool in our initial years will be predominantly, but not exclusively, ethnic Chinese,” says Russell. “We are looking across the globe to attract clients who would like to access differentiated services from an Asian bank.”

Asked how he sees competition from established global players, Russell argues that the aftermath of the global financial crisis has created an environment where it can be an advantage being a late mover.

“In the current dynamic environment, where regulators across the globe are making stringent efforts to enhance levels of investor protection and information disclosure, there are opportunities for new entrants to anticipate the future trends of international private banking,” he says.

“CTCB Private Banking’s core offering will be portfolio advisory supported by a transparent, account-fee-based pricing model that is in line with client needs and regulatory trends,” notes Russell. “Departing from the old transaction-driven model is much easier for new entrants like us.”