HSBC's global private banking business announced last night that it is appointing new regional leadership teams in Asia and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea).

The new team in Asia will succeed Monica Wong who, according to HSBC, has decided to retire as of December 31 this year. In addition to being a private banker, Wong, 65, was a competitive Latin ballroom dancer – she won the “Top Gold Lady” for her rumba at the 2003 Emerald Ball Dancesport Championships, which is billed as one of the largest ballroom competitions in America.

In 2006 she became embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit against her former dancing instructor, which revealed that she had spent $15 million on eight years of unlimited dance lessons. She won the case, but gave up competition.

Wong, who is chief executive, is being replaced by Desmond Liu who will become head of private banking for North Asia, and Nancie Dupier who will become head of private banking for Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Alexandre Zeller will assume the new role of CEO for private banking in Emea. All three will report to Chris Meares, CEO of global private banking.

“Given the importance of Asia to HSBC and the potential business growth in the region, Meares will move to Hong Kong to oversee the leadership transition," the bank said in a statement. "He will continue to divide his time between Europe and Asia, and the global private banking head office will remain in Europe.”

That said, in the same statement, Meares positioned the change as an opportunity: "These management appointments reposition global private banking to take advantage of the entrepreneurial wealth creation that is taking place in the emerging markets," said Meares. "They also reflect the depth of talent we have in global private banking and will enable us to build on Monica's significant legacy in Asia."

Wong, well known for her charitable fundraising in the arts and for education, has established herself as a key private banker in the region during her 27-year tenure at HSBC. She will become a non-executive director of HSBC Private Banking, subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals.

"Monica retiring is no surprise. It has been discussed for a while," said one senior industry source. "Overall I would say she has done an extraordinarily good job. She had a few detractors and there have been issues, but she built a phenomenal business. It used to be nothing, and she built it up to be the second largest private bank in Asia, with an excellent platform."

"She managed to hive out an independent profile for the private bank, which is not easy when you have a retail bank that is so prominent," the source continued. "She differentiated it from HSBC Premier, partly through her larger-than-life persona and her own glamour. She is a very attractive woman who looks much younger than her age, which is why people might actually be surprised she is retiring."

"The salsa dancing revelations were an embarrassment and she got burned by the press. But I think she is a remarkable individual, and the management bench she built at HSBC Private Bank is remarkable. Desmond [Liu] is a very good guy, and Nancie [Dupier] is very experienced."

Liu is currently market head for Greater China at HSBC global private banking. He joined HSBC in September 2007 from DBS Bank, where he was head of private banking for North Asia and Greater China. Before that he was at Prudential Bache and Lehman Brothers Securities where he covered various markets, including Greater China, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore. He also worked at Citibank for a number of years.

Dupier is currently head of global private banking in Singapore. She joined HSBC Bank USA, private banking in 2005 as chief investment officer, head of investment and product group, Americas. She assumed her current role in Singapore in February 2010. Before HSBC, Dupier held senior executive roles at Chase Manhattan, J.P. Morgan and Bank of America.

As for Emea, Zeller will retain his current roles as HSBC country manager for Switzerland and CEO of HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), HSBC’s private bank based in Geneva, alongside his new role as CEO for private banking in Emea. He joined HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) in 2008 from Banque Cantonale Vaudoise where he was CEO for six years. Zeller started his career with Nestlé, and spent 16 years with Credit Suisse in Geneva, Zurich and New York.

His new role will see HSBC’s private banking activities in Europe, Middle East and Africa come under one regional leadership for the first time.

HSBC also announced the appointment of Franco Morra as the new head of private banking at HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), reporting to Zeller. Morra previously worked for UBS where he was most recently chief executive officer of UBS Switzerland and a member of the group executive board. Prior to that role, he held various positions at UBS as well as at Boston Consulting Group and has significant international experience in banking and wealth management.