Coutts beefs up to target growing rich in region

Private lender looks to boost personal services by doubling number of senior bankers in Asia to cater to the increase in millionaires

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 5:09am

Coutts, a British private bank which during its 321 years of history has served Charles Dickens and Frederic Chopin, plans to boost its workforce in Asia to capture the growing number of millionaires.

Rory Tapner, the chief executive of the lender, said it would double the number of senior bankers in the next three years, but he declined to give the exact number.

The bank has about 500 staff in Asia, representing about 10 per cent of its global workforce.

"We believe in the human touch and we will make sure our bankers provide a high level of personal services," Tapner told the South China Morning Post during a recent visit.

Tapner, who is based in London, has been visiting Hong Kong, Singapore and other Asian markets to meet customers. He said Asia was among five areas the bank wanted to focus on.

According to private bank Julius Baer, the number of people with more than US$1 million in investable assets in Hong Kong grew 9.5 per cent to 113,000 this year and is expected to increase to 134,000 by 2015. Those on the mainland rose 21.6 per cent to 1.02 million and would reach 1.4 million in 2015.

Coutts in recent years has cut the number of markets it operates in, a strategy that led it to sell its Latin American business and shut down operations in continental Europe and Africa. This allows it to focus on its home market Britain, Switzerland and the three high-growth areas - Asia, Middle East and eastern Europe.

"The new regulatory environment after the global financial crisis has made it very expensive to run businesses across many countries," Tapner said. "We now target to focus on markets which can bring us profitable and high growth potential."

Coutts, the wealth management arm of Royal Bank of Scotland, now will operate in the markets only if they provide it with at least £5 billion (HK$60.4 billion) of assets to manage.

"It is only with such a critical mass of investment portfolio that we would have the economy of scale to generate a good profit," Tapner said.

Coutts' medium-term growth targets are to see its client assets and liabilities rise to about £130 billion by 2015, compared with £87.5 billion at the end of March.

It also aims to split its business evenly between Britain and international markets, compared with a 60:40 split now.

Tapner has hired and internally promoted more than 10 experienced bankers in the past 18 months, including David Lam as head of North Asia and Ranjit Khanna as head of South Asia.

He has also expanded more digital technology for customers to manage their portfolios through computers and mobile phones.

"We have to keep the old tradition of services quality but at the same time we have to catch up with the new technology to allow clients to execute trades online and manage their portfolios via many useful digital tools in any part of the world," he said.