Swiss private bank Pictet & Cie’s Asia head of wealth management, Claude Haberer, is seeking to grow its fledgling China team after hiring a trio of relationship managers to cover the market.

Pictet, which manages SFr187 billion in client assets globally and $5-$10 billion in Asia, has brought Tse Meng Ng (managing director) and Serene Ng (vice-president) on board with an assistant from BSI, based in Singapore. Tse Meng Ng was an MD at BSI, where he had led a North Asia team that featured Serene Ng.

A couple of months before Pictet also hired relationship manager Paul Yu (senior vice-president) to cover China based out of Hong Kong. He has a private banking background in Hong Kong with BNP Paribas and has also worked for an onshore Chinese securities firm, says Pictet.

“On China we have a lot of room to grow,” Haberer tells AsianInvstor. “I am planning to grow the team out of both Hong Kong and Singapore.”

He confirms Pictet & Cie has no intention to seek an onshore China presence, noting that individual accounts tend to be smaller and the product set and regulatory environment different. Nor does he intend to apply for a QFII licence for the private banking business, at least in the near term. "We have a lot to do in Hong Kong and Singapore, and we have a few years to get busy.”

This move to set up and build a dedicated team to cover wealthy offshore clients from mainland China comes after Pictet & Cie hired a team of seven from Credit Suisse last June, chiefly to focus on Greater China based out of Singapore.

Last April Pictet & Cie received a banking licence from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, allowing it to book client assets in the city. And a few weeks ago it also finalised its RMB licence, meaning it can book RMB assets and do remittances.

Haberer says Pictet & Cie has added a third of its Asia assets over the past year-and-a-half, split equally between Hong Kong and Singapore. He estimates two-thirds of its HK business is made up of local residents, with offshore clients from mainland China and Taiwan accounting for the rest.

But he believes that the rivalry between Hong Kong and Singapore for Asia hub status in private banking has diminished over the years, with both centres having established different identities.

“Clients who are active traders and want immediate access to liquid markets, especially equities, are definitely keener on Hong Kong,” he notes. “This is where the action is for Chinese firms listing in Hong Kong that can conduct their investments in a smooth and liquid manner. And on the debt side there are huge hopes about Chinese bonds being issued in Hong Kong.

“Singapore has developed along different lines. It offers the security and confidentiality of an independent sovereign state and has fostered an environment of long-term banking relationships.

“So I would say the two centres are now quite different. The Hong Kong private banking industry grew very much out of client demand, whereas Singapore’s growth was more institutional and promoted by the government.”

At last count Pictet had 18 relationship managers in Singapore and 15 in Hong Kong.

A spokeswoman for BSI confirms Tse Meng Ng and Serene Ng left the firm in November. Jerry Yong was subsequently named head of its Greater China team, reporting to Esther Heer, CEO of BSI Investment Advisers (Hong Kong).