Basel-headquartered Bank Sarasin announced yesterday that it has opened a branch in Hong Kong -- its first branch outside Switzerland.

The full service branch is to be managed by Enid Yip, the bank's chief executive officer for Asia. It will allow clients worldwide to book assets in Hong Kong and offers an alternative to Sarasin's two booking centres -- one in Singapore and the other in Germany -- as well as the booking centre at its headquarters in Switzerland. The branch also offers a dedicated infrastructure to meet the needs of high-net-worth individuals in Asia, which is clearly a growing business for the bank.

"The opening of our Hong Kong branch is a historic moment for Sarasin and marks our commitment to our clients, to our international growth strategy, and to Asia in particular," Joachim Straehle, chief executive officer of Bank Sarasin, said in a statement.

"We have grown our Asia operations tremendously over the last three years, demonstrating the strength of our commitment to the region and our expectations of further growth," added Fidelis Goetz, head of private banking.

Sarasin's presence in Hong Kong dates back to 1995, through Rabobank's international private banking business. In 2002, when Rabobank began a strategic alliance with Sarasin, Rabobank's Asian private banking business was incorporated into Sarasin. The Hong Kong business was then renamed Sarasin Rabo Investment Management, marking Sarasin's actual entry into Asia.

Sarasin, which focuses on sustainable investing, has expanded substantially in Asia since 2002, and by the end of 2009 had doubled the number of staff in Hong Kong. Last year, its assets under management increased 60% in Asia and the Middle East, while net new assets grew by 70% -- the strongest performance across the group worldwide. It has increasingly been rolling out offerings in the region that it promotes elsewhere, such as its Shar'iah-compliant wealth management platform.

While several banks like to tout themselves as "sustainable", Sarasin has put teeth into the plan by making its sustainable investment strategy the core programme for its private-banking clients. Investors need to actively opt out of the sustainable investment portfolio rather than choose it.

As of the end of December 2009 Sarasin managed total client assets of SFr93.7 billion ($88.9 billion) and employed around 1,500 staff.