Mercer's Asia head of Asia wealth management, Steven Seow, left the consultancy last month to focus on his own venture, AsianInvestor can reveal. 

Seow, who has been with Mercer in Singapore since October 2013, told AsianInvestor that he moved on December 18, to work on building up Singapore Consultancy.

He told AsianInvestor: “Singapore Consultancy will work closely with the [Singapore] government to convert former senior bankers into management consultants, and deploy them on banking projects across Asia." 
 
According to Seow, the new consultancy practice works closely with Workforce Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore's government, as well as the Employment and Employability Institution, an employment skills and matching network, and NTUC, a national confederation of trade unions as well as a network of professional associations and partners across sectors in Singapore.
 
Seow's departure comes after a group-wide shakeup at Mercer early last year and as Janet Li joins from Willis Towers Watson in the newly created role of Asia wealth business leader, as first reported by AsianInvestor.

Mercer did not respond by press time on whether Seow would be replaced. 

In recent years the wealth management industry has seen its profits come under growing pressure amid a backdrop of declining fees, increasing competition and a rising regulatory and compliance burden. There has been a trend towards consolidation and internal restructuring among private banks in Asia as firms seek cost efficiencies from greater scale.
 
Singapore Consultancy, meanwhile, has three focus areas: a consulting business that will leverage the expertise of freelance consultants; pro-bono charity work; and acting as mentor/adviser for start-ups.

Bankers will not be full-time employees with the firm, and will be paid only when they are deployed on projects, said Seow.He likened his model to that of taxi-hailing app Uber—acting as an intermediary to connect bankers with projects and taking a slice of each transaction.

Steven Seow

The consultancy already has about 60 freelance bankers signed up, and the target is to hit 100 soon, said Seow. "Most of these bankers are between 48 and 55 years old, with a vast range of experience."

Given that so much retrenchment has taken place in the banking industry over the past two to three years, Seow said he felt it was the right time to press ahead with his venture.

Mercer shake-up

Mercer, which advises institutional investors, fund houses and wealth managers, had merged its investment and retirement divisions into the newly named wealth business in January 2017.

The move reflects a global trend among investment consultancies, which are facing falling margins amid stiff competition for advising institutional clients.

After the group restructuring, Mercer is keen to focus on more profitable divisions such as delegated solutions (which provides asset allocation advice and fund-of-funds solutions), which is already a $200 billion-plus business globally for the firm, industry insiders said.

Willis Towers Watson is another consultancy to have refocused its business in the past year or so, in its case on what it sees as Asia's more profitable markets.  

Mercer had first established an Asia-Pacific wealth management consulting team in early 2010, but by April 2012 all three members had left, before Seow joined in October 2013.

Prior to joining Mercer, Seow was director of banking and wealth management at Ernst & Young Advisory, which he joined in 2008. He has also worked at Citi Private Bank, IBM Business Consulting, PwC Consulting and Odyssey Financial Technologies.

His career spans close to 16 years focused on private wealth management.