Societe Generale Private Banking has promoted Hsiao-Yun Lee to a new position as chief executive officer in China. The move recognises that the firm's private banking business in China has passed the build-up stage and is now ready to tap into one of the world's fastest growing wealth markets in earnest.
Lee has been head of private banking for China since October 2007 when she transferred to Shanghai to build an onshore private banking presence for SG in China. Prior to that, she spent 11 years in Hong Kong focusing on offshore private banking targeted at Chinese clients. She has more than 20 years of experience in the banking industry and joined SG Private Banking (Asia-Pacific) in Hong Kong in 1997.
While Lee's title might be new, her role and her daily responsibilities will be much the same, although a lot of the early work of trying to understand the market, communicate with the regulators and prepare the documentation needed to operate in China's domestic market has now been done. She will continue to promote the bank's products and services for high-net-worth clients in China, who, like anywhere else in the world, are defined as those with at least $1 million of investable capital, excluding their primary residence.
As the market continues to develop, the bank is also able to offer a wider range of products and services this year than it could last year.
Given that the Chinese currency is not freely convertible, the Chinese private banking division is developing a lot of renminbi-denominated products tailored specifically to Chinese clients in China. At the same time, it is able to tap into the global strengths of SG Private Banking with regard to research and structuring capabilities, among other things.
In a phone interview with FinanceAsia, Lee said SG plans to expand its private banking team in China late this year and into next year. The private banking division currently has 13 people on the ground in China, split between Beijing and Shanghai.
"The China wealth market is growing in importance despite the global economic uncertainties as Chinese entrepreneurs have the ability for both wealth creation and accumulation," Lee said. "As their businesses are becoming more internationalised, as they travel more and have a better understanding of international trade and finance, they are looking for wealth preservation. That sets a very good stage for the private banking industry for the next five or 10 years."
Like several other foreign banks, SG applied for a licence to become a locally incorporated entity in China shortly after this became possible in December 2006, five years after China joined the World Trade Organisation. This coincided with a renewed focus within SG on the long-term growth opportunities in emerging markets and led to Lee's transfer to Shanghai.
SG received the licence in August 2008, which means last year was its first full year of conducting local banking services, including private banking.
The bank doesn't publish a breakdown of results for the China private-banking business, but according to people familiar with the bank, the business has grown rapidly since then, both in terms of assets under management and net banking income. It is also busy acquiring new customers.
SG Private Banking is the wealth management arm of French bank Societe Generale. As of the end of March, it had €79 billion of assets under management globally and was active in 22 countries.