EFG AM plots Asia growth with hire amid merger uncertainty

EFG Asset Management has hired a Singapore head amid uncertainty over its parent bank's takeover of Swiss rival BSI. AsianInvestor spoke to Moz Afzal, the fund firm's global CIO.
EFG AM plots Asia growth with hire amid merger uncertainty

The global chief investment officer of Switzerland's EFG Asset Management had an eye on post-acquisition expansion when he hired Rebekah Chuan to run the firm’s Singapore unit after a long search. 

Moz Afzal said the new appointment would unify the discretionary portfolio management (DPM) offerings of EFG and embattled BSI in Singapore once the two Swiss banks had completed their merger, as is expected in the fourth quarter. 

However, there is uncertainty over how the combined EFG-BSI business will ultimately look in Asia, given that BSI’s Singapore unit was fined and ordered to shut down in May, although the bank has reportedly lodged an appeal. 

Chuan started on Wednesday (August 17) as Singapore chief executive and head of investments. She is well versed in running DPM platforms, having done so for both Singapore-based DBS and the UK’s HSBC.

EFG AM runs the discretionary portfolios for its parent bank, as well as institutional mandates and the firm’s New Capital range of funds. Afzal estimated that the AUM ratio in Asia was about 60% DPM to 40% institutional/ funds business. 

Chuan’s main focus will be to expand the DPM client base, but her remit also includes the institutional and funds businesses. She is understood to have completed her near-five-year stint at DBS Private Bank, where she had been head of DPM, only a few days before starting at EFG AM. She also served Singapore head of DPM at HSBC Private Bank for 10 years and has worked at Newton Investment Management, Axa Investment Managers and Aviva Investors.

It wasn’t easy finding someone of suitable quality and experience, and the search had taken some two years, London-based Afzal told AsianInvestor. “We conducted a lot of interviews,” he added ruefully.

But since EFG AM had a regional head in the form of Andrew Lee, there was no desperate rush to fill the vacancy. Lee is also Hong Kong CEO and retains both roles following the arrival of Chuan, who reports both to him and Afzal.

Merger uncertainty 

The firm will be able to have more clarity about its plans once the BSI acquisition is finalised, which will be the culmination of a long-running saga. BSI’s previous buyer, Brazilian bank BTG Pactual, had been forced to sell it just a few months after that deal had completed in September last year, after BTG’s CEO was caught up in the Petrobras corruption scandal.

BSI consequently suffered outflows of both client assets and private bankers, though EFG will reportedly pay a reduced price for the business as a result.

“Clearly BSI had quite a few problems in Asia, and there was a huge amount of headline news,” conceded Afzal. “The media coverage was quite heavy-handed, and it’s fair to say that there were clients and even private bankers that were concerned. But from what I can understand, the initial shock has now dissipated, and it’s now close to being business as usual.”

Asked whether EFG AM would make use of the Asean collective investment scheme – a cross-border fund passporting programme – Afzal said the firm was looking at it. “If Asia or Asean can create a structure that works like Ucits, we would certainly support it,” he noted. “But at this stage it’s too soon to proceed [with committing resources to the scheme].”

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