Boutique private bank Vontobel Wealth Management has added a senior relationship manager for Asia. It plans to hire more senior bankers in the coming months as it aims to double its assets under management in the region.
Tony Lai joined Vontobel as executive director and senior relationship manager effective August 28 from EFG private bank, where he held a similar position and became chief of staff in 2013. With 27 years of private banking experience, Lai had previously worked with a number of banks in Hong Kong, including Republic National Bank of New York, American Express Bank and Bank of East Asia.
Lai’s appointment brought the total number of Vontobel private bankers in the region to six, all senior and reporting to Alex Fung, chief executive officer for Asia.
Fung said he plans to hire more bankers but declined to commit to a date for hiring.
“We focus on senior hires because of our size at the moment. We also need to find the right candidate that fits our business model,” said Fung.
Vontobel, which entered Asia in 2013, is a niche player with only 20 people in Asia in total. It has a presence in Hong Kong with no immediate plans of expanding into Singapore, though that is an aspiration.
Fung claims Vontobel is more about advice than pushing products compared to larger competitors, because its booking centre remains centralised in Zurich. This keeps costs low and reduces pressure on relationship managers to sell to Asian customers.
“Operating a huge [private banking] platform comes with a high cost. There is a fixed cost to look after, and that means private banks have to sell products,” he said. “We are a smaller player. We don’t emphasize daily trading. I am not an expensive broker.”
Vontobel operates an open-architecture product platform in Asia and provides both discretionary and advisory services to clients with a minimum of US$1 million in investible assets. Its fund selection team is based in Zurich but it has two investment team members in Hong Kong, who support due diligence work on funds from Asia.
As of 31 December 2014, Vontobel held CHF 191 billion (US$200 billion) of client assets. It declined to provide a breakdown of the AUM from Asia.