Swiss private bank Sarasin has announced three internal promotions to senior positions at the start of this year as it seeks to strengthen its market focus on China and Southeast Asia.

Febby Avianto takes on a newly created position as vice-chair of client advisory for Southeast Asia (predominantly Indonesia and Malaysia), having been hired from UBS two years ago as Indonesia market head, based in Singapore.

He reports to Southeast Asia CEO Grace Barki, who has worked at Sarasin for two years, having been head of the Singapore-based Indonesia team for UBS Wealth Management, where she also worked with Barki.

Enid Yip, Asia CEO of Bank Sarasin, says Avianto is being rewarded for his efforts and will now look at expanding the firm’s Malaysia coverage, while maintaining his role as head of the Indonesian market. Scott Duncan, who joined from Goldman Sachs in January 2009, continues as Malaysia team head.

Yip – who also doubles as North Asia CEO – says she would like to work more closely with Barki on strategic initiatives. “I would like her to help me with more feasibility studies in Southeast Asia, and on how we can do more branding and be consistent between North and Southeast Asia,” she tells AsianInvestor.

Further, Sarasin promoted Karen Leung to vice-chair of client advisory, mainly focused on North Asia, given that she used to cover Greater China during her Credit Suisse days. It comes after Sarasin’s vice-chair of client advisory, Elina So (former Hong Kong country head for UBS Wealth Management) quit in December. Her destination could not be ascertained by press time.

And Polly Lam has been promoted from senior relationship manager and executive director for the China market to head of China and managing director.

Lam joined Sarasin in May 2009, also from UBS, where she had been managing a mainland China-focused portfolio, while Leung came on board in April 2007 from Credit Suisse, where she had been deputy China market head.

“We have never had a China head before,” says Yip, noting that establishing a representative office in Shanghai is a priority for this year. She expects to file an application in the first quarter. 

“There was an interim period because we had a change of major shareholder,” she adds. “Now we have no more uncertainty, so we can go full steam into China.”

Last November it emerged that Safra Group had agreed to acquire Rabobank’s controlling stake in Bank Sarasin & Cie for around $1.1 billion as it sought to expand its private banking presence in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It purchased 68% of the voting rights and a 46% equity interest.

Julius Baer was understood to be among those firms eager to acquire Rabobank’s interest in Sarasin as a means to increase scale and compete in an environment where clients are sitting on the sidelines and the cost of compliance is putting a burden on business bottom lines.

Asked what the acquisition by Safra brings to Sarasin, Yip replies: “Security and stability.” She also expresses relief that the firm will cease to be part of the Swiss private banking consolidation story. “We are now removed from that, we have a majority shareholder that is cash-rich and wants to invest more into Europe and Asia.”

Headquartered in Brazil, Safra is strong in Latin America and as such will no doubt provide additional distribution channels for Sarasin product.

Overall Sarasin has 42 relationship managers in the region, two thirds of whom are based in Hong Kong and the rest in Singapore. Yip says she aims to bring in more hires in the first quarter, and on her radar is a new head for North Asia, although she has no timeline on that.

Sarasin was awarded a banking licence in Hong Kong in March last year, its first branch outside of Switzerland. Last August its Singapore office was upgraded from a purely wholesale branch to an offshore branch (allowing it to take Singapore dollar deposits, with certain restrictions on deposits from local residents), although this only became operationally effective this year.

Asked if there were plans to apply for a full bank branch licence in the city-state, Yip notes that completion of the shareholding acquisition by Safra could take up to six months. “I would say the fourth quarter of this year would be the earliest [for a branch application],” she adds.

In a recent release on its investment outlook, Sarasin says it expects 8-13% annual equity returns globally over the next five years, with equity markets cheap on price-to-earnings ratios. It sees the biggest upside potential in emerging markets and euroland stocks.