Bank Sarasin plans to hire a handful of relationship managers and back-office staff for North and Southeast Asia by the end of the first quarter next year, its regional chief Enid Yip revealed yesterday.

She also suggested the bank’s biggest challenge for 2011 would be establishing a representative office in Shanghai. Yip estimates that the firm will submit its application by the middle of next year (making a January report that its Shanghai rep office was planned for the third quarter of this year appear optimistic).

Yip was speaking after the Swiss boutique announced the appointment of Michael Coglin as its first Asia-based chief investment officer. He started as a managing director on November 1 in Hong Kong.

Coglin has worked for Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management since 2001, most recently as its UK head of global investment solutions. He has been based in London for five of the past six years, with a year in Geneva sandwiched in between.

He also spent two years in Singapore as Deutsche PWM’s Asia-Pacific head of product management and investment solutions. Prior to that he worked for Barclays Capital, JP Morgan, NatWest Bank and Goldman Sachs.

At Sarasin, Coglin reports directly to Asia CEO Yip as well as to Burkhard Varnholt, the bank's chief investment officer and head of the asset management, products and sales division.

“[Coglin] has extensive experience in asset management, private banking and capital markets, and this is a combination that makes us privileged to have him,” Yip says in a phone interview. “He has worked in Singapore, Switzerland and London and so brings with him a wide international exposure.”

She confirmed that Sarasin had been seeking an Asia-based CIO for at least a year. “Whether it’s a position we had on our business plan a year ago or two years ago doesn’t matter,” she notes.

She says the idea that Sarasin needed an Asia-based CIO was a thought that occurred to her “when we hired Grace Barki and her team [from UBS in Singapore last December]. I can see the growth [potential] in North Asia, but picking the right person is not something I can put a time-line on.”

Asked what it says about the talent pool in Asia that Sarasin reached across to London to find a regional CIO born in Britain, Yip replies: “My criteria for bringing in a CIO was not whether he or she is Asian. What really matters is knowledge knowhow. If they were Asian, for example, I would need to look at whether their exposure was restricted to Asia. We are an international bank after all."

“The other important factor was whether this person is a people person, because our business is all about people. If they come in as a professor with loads of knowledge but can’t integrate into our culture, then I have serious issues. [Coglin] is at a stage right now where he is excited to build with a smaller bank, and if I look at his credentials he is the best choice. His only shortcoming, if I need to pick one, is that he does not speak Mandarin or Cantonese. But, importantly, he understands Asian culture.”

Part of Coglin’s role will be to assess Sarasin’s present operations and offer strategic advice to Yip on areas he thinks need to be strengthened. His reports include Fritz Man, the Swiss bank’s head of investment products for Asia.

“[Coglin] is going to be helping me on more macro and high-level strategies, looking at how we can bring Asian products or strategies back to Switzerland and vice-versa,” explained Yip. “He can help take care of the product platform and investment solutions, while I can spend more time enhancing relationships with clients all over Asia. Fritz will continue to run the product team on a day-to-day basis, focusing on advisory to relationship managers.”

Asked if Coglin’s appointment would mean Asia will see less of Varnholt, who has been flying out to the region regularly, Yip responds: “Nothing has changed there. Burkhard has so many fans in Asia. I don’t think our clients can do without him visiting Asia on a frequent basis.”

Yip also confirmed that she is also looking to bring in more relationship managers and back-office staff to cover North and Southeast Asia. “By the end of the first quarter next year we will have some new additions, although it is unlikely to be in double-digits,” she adds.

At present Sarasin has a total of 42 relationship managers in the region. Two-thirds of them are based in Hong Kong and the remainder in Singapore.

Asked about what the market might expect from Sarasin in 2011, Yip says: “I think the challenge for next year is to try and open a rep office in Shanghai. We are definitely looking to get into China.”

She suggests the middle of next year as a realistic timeframe to submit an application to Chinese authorities. “It wouldn’t be up and running for another year. We would be looking at 2012.”