Deborah Ho’s move back to the buy-side at Barclays Capital reflects a growing need for in-depth cross-asset and cross-product advice among Asian corporates and institutions, says the former chief executive of DBS Asset Management.
Ho started last Monday (February 20) as head of senior relationship management (SRM) for Southeast Asia at Barclays Capital in a newly created role based in Singapore.
Ho’s coverage will span the bank's entire universe of products and services, including offerings from Barclays Capital Fund Solutions and Barclays Wealth, the asset management and private banking units, respectively. But that will only come once she has had more time to “do a deep dive” into those two businesses, she tells AsianInvestor in an exclusive interview.
She will service the group's biggest corporate and institutional clients in the region. These include CEOs and chief investment officers at organisations from financial institutions to state entities.
Ho's hire will help the bank to create holistic solutions and cross-sell anything from financing services to M&A advice, cash and investment management and underwriting of bond or equity issues.
The position will involve strategic rather than tactical conversations. “I won’t be recommending bond purchases, for example,” Ho says. “It’s more like listening to the client, figuring out what their real issues are and mapping out what they need against the expertise we have at BarCap.”
Clients in Asia are becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of their knowledge about markets, notes Ho, and that has meant the demand has increased for information and different products and services.
While the bank already “maps” clients according to various client groups, Ho will bring together key clients under SRM relationships. This will facilitate in-depth discussions to give Barclays Capital more information about what the clients have done involving the bank’s services and what they need, which will allow it to fit its offering better to their requirements.
Ho reports to Kirk Sweeney, Asia-Pacific head of SRM in Hong Kong, and her hire expands the global SRM business headed by Steve Lessing in New York. “[Lessing] has a select team of very senior and seasoned professional bankers who have done their tour of duty,” she says, “some from the buy-side and some from the sell-side.”
Ho has 25 years’ experience in financial institutions both in Asia and New York. Before joining Barclays Capital, she was CEO of DBS AM in Singapore for eight years, where she led the team in the sale of that business to Nikko Asset Management in October, after which she left the firm.
Much of Ho’s career – 17 years – was spent on the sell-side. Before DBS AM, she held senior roles at UBS and JP Morgan and worked at Wardley, Credit Suisse and Citibank. She was listed last year among AsianInvestor’s Top 25 most influential women in asset management.
This experience means Ho has relationships with a large number of high-level executives. “When you’ve been in the market for 'x' number of years, the people you know will have been promoted as well,” she says. “I’m in a very fortunate position in that my clients and I have grown old together. I knew many of these people [who are clients of BarCap] before I joined.
“I will be talking to people who’ve done similar things to me: built businesses, been involved in transitions and takeovers etcetera,” adds Ho. “And I know what it’s like to have regulators closely watching over you.”
Other opportunities did come Ho’s way following her departure from DBS AM. “I’m very flattered that people thought of me,” she says, without naming names. But she was not “aggressively interviewing” for several months after she left the fund house.
What she really wanted – and was able – to do was spend more time with her four teenage children, help them with their college choices and not simply be a “mother by appointment”.
But she also says returning to the sell-side felt “very natural”, given that she has navigated a firm through a transformation and had the benefit of working with a "very respected shareholder" in the form of DBS Bank.