US bank Citi has surprised the market by hiring former staffer Bassam Salem from privately held Swiss firm EFG as its new Asia-Pacific private bank CEO.

Aamir Rahim

Salem is due to start on October 1 in Hong Kong. He will replace Aamir Rahim, who has been appointed head of Citi’s public sector group for Asia-Pacific, which provides investments to government bodies and sovereign wealth funds.

Rahim’s new role will be effective from September 1. A Citi spokesman confirms that Deepak Sharma, chairman of Citi Private Bank globally, will act as Asia-Pacific CEO in the interim.

Salem held a number of roles over a 15-year period after joining Citi’s private banking business in Geneva in 1985. These included investments head in Asia and Emea and global investments head, overseeing asset management, investment advisory, FX, brokerage and product management.

He had been a member of Sharma’s leadership team when the current chairman was then CEO of Asia and the Middle East.

But since 2001 Salem worked at EFG Bank, most recently as CEO for the Middle East and India and Asia-Pacific investments head, based in Singapore. EFG’s business in Asia-Pacific is run by CEO Albert Chiu and chairman Robert Chiu, with Kees Stoute as CEO in Singapore.

EFG only recently incorporated its India and Middle East businesses into EFG Asia, at which time Salem was appointed head of investments, a spokesman for the bank confirms.

Asked why Citi had turned to Salem, a spokesman for the bank says: “He comes highly recommended and knows the Citi culture, having worked here for 15 years. He has experience in starting up businesses and investments and has that entrepreneurial spirit.

“But while it is a change in leadership, there is no change in strategy. We are still looking to embed the private bank into the institutional client group.”

Rahim was appointed Asia-Pacific head of Citi’s global wealth management business in August 2008 to replace Kaven Leung, who left to join Goldman Sachs as deputy head of private wealth.

Rahim had previously worked as co-head of fixed income, currencies and commodities for Asia-Pacific, as well as capital markets origination, so head of a private bank was something of a departure for him.

The Citi spokesman says Rahim successfully revamped the private bank over the past three years, including the compensations structure and in the products space, as well as hiring an array of staff. “He feels his job is done and he wants to go back to the institutional side of the business,” he notes.

Among Rahim’s prominent appointees were Debashish Gupta as Asia-Pacific head of investments (internal); Roger Bacon as Asia-Pacific head of managed investments and advisory from Union Bancaire Privée’s hedge fund business in London;  Rudolf Hitsch as global market manager for China from Goldman Sachs; Richard Straus as head of Citi’s newly established global family office and Steven Lo as global market manager for Hong Kong (internal hires).

He also brought in Tashwinder Singh (internal) to look after its India business and John Wang for Taiwan from Goldman.

A senior industry source says of Rahim: “He did a great job, pulling together the investment bank and the private bank and cleaning up the mess. He rebuilt the China and Taiwan businesses after defections.

“He lost very few people and he stabilised the franchise after Citi’s crisis during the global meltdown. Bankers and clients definitely liked him, not least because of his strong market knowledge.”

Citi claims to be the largest wealth manager in Asia-Pacific with $193 billion in assets under management.