Fubon Bank (Hong Kong), a locally listed unit of Taiwan's Fubon Financial Holdings, said its wealth management services for Taiwanese customers should again grow by double digits this year. The number of wealth management accounts held by Taiwanese clients rose 44 per cent to 2,400 at the end of the first half last year from undisclosed figures for the half to December 2005. Assets managed for Taiwanese clients climbed 36 per cent to HK$2.7 billion, accounting for 10 per cent of the bank's assets under management. 'The double-digit growth can be sustained this year,' said James Yip, the executive director and head of the financial markets group. 'There have been a lot of changes in the past 18 months. Many Taiwanese customers bought Hong Kong or mainland stock-related investment products from us,' Mr Yip said. He said staff would increase to cope with the new business. 'We will hire at least 10 to 15 per cent more staff this year, bringing the total in the financial markets group to about 100.' Fubon Bank, formerly International Bank of Asia, was bought by the Taiwanese parent firm in 2003. Since then, the parent's strategy has been to use the local unit as a product and information platform for the group's clients in Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan. Mr Yip said that after the restructuring of the financial markets group and its incorporation with the bank's stock brokerage business, Fubon could offer clients foreign exchange, interest rate and equity products more effectively. The bank's stock brokerage business had increased 5 to 10 per cent by customer numbers and revenue last quarter, he said. Mr Yip said the bank would consider offering other products, such as those related to yuan-denominated bonds, as soon as regulations permit. He said the bank was also in touch with mainland lenders to explore business opportunities. Fubon is awaiting approval of its application to set up a representative office in Dongguan, Guangdong province. In the six months to June last year, Fubon Bank had a net profit of HK$125.4 million, up 10 per cent over 2005. Mr Yip said the bank's earnings had been relatively volatile in recent years since it relied heavily on the interbank lending market to replenish its capital, making it vulnerable to interest rate volatility. 'We have already taken measures such as issuing long-term bonds to reduce our reliance on short-term funding and we have diversified our business with an eye on stabilising our cost of funds,' Mr Yip said. Without giving details, he said the bank's net interest margin had improved again last year. Fubon Bank shares closed at HK$3.84 or 2.29 per cent down on Friday.