Credit Suisse targets the richest of the rich in Asia

The private bank seeks to attract clients through providing solutions or helping make social connections

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 3:41am

Global private banks always chase wealthy clients, but Credit Suisse has narrowed its quarry further - to the richest of Asia's rich.

Like many other big banks, Credit Suisse is reacting to a significantly altered financial services landscape following the 2008 global financial crisis.

These days, more banks are making bigger than ever efforts to expand in Asia, given the worsening debt crisis in Europe and a disappointing economic recovery in the United States.

In Asia, almost 60 per cent of the Swiss bank's business in terms of assets under management came from ultra-high-net-worth clients, said Yves-Alain Sommerhalder, Credit Suisse's head of ultra-high-net-worth solutions in the Asia-Pacific.

He added that the bank would like to see the proportion grow.

Credit Suisse focuses on two kinds of private banking clients in the Asia-Pacific - core clients with assets of between US$2 million and US$50 million parked at the bank, and ultra-high-net-worth clients with assets of US$50 million and above under management at the bank, or whose net wealth amounts to more than US$250 million.

"I was an entrepreneur before, and I remember when private bankers used to knock on my door and ask me for money, that was the last thing I was interested in. I was interested in people helping me fund my business," said Francesco de Ferrari, Credit Suisse's Asia-Pacific head of private banking.

Ferrari founded and led three companies before joining Credit Suisse in 2002.

"Many clients who are entrepreneurs are in the early stages of needing to look for partners to grow their business," he said.

Providing solutions or helping clients make new social connections through various high-level events made the private banker more of a partner than just a sales person, Ferrari said.

To attract and retain wealthy clients, Credit Suisse, among other things, holds exclusive events. Last month, it invited 70 ultra-high-net-worth clients to Hong Kong to take part in a discussion about Sino-US relations with the likes of Henry Kissinger, a former US secretary of state, and Clark Randt, a former US ambassador to China.

The bank also sponsored a private lunch for 40 clients with Uli Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China, who owns one of the world's largest collections of Chinese contemporary art.

Banks touting such high-cost business models needed to have at least US$30 million from each client to invest to be profitable, said Kenny Lam, a McKinsey partner who specialises in private banking.

Credit Suisse has 430 relationship managers in Asia, mostly based in Hong Kong and Singapore, who directly deal with clients in the region.

Ferrari said that while controlling costs was essential to ensuring the health of the business, the bank's assets grew 27 per cent this year, so it was not afraid to spend on its clients. "Our business is a marathon, not a sprint," he said.