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HSBC is casting a wider recruitment net in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The most surprising thing about HSBC’s big Asian hiring drive

HSBC’s ambitious hiring drive in Asian private banking doesn’t just involve poaching relationship managers (RMs) from rival private banks. The firm is also taking on external candidates from the retail banking industry.

“HSBC Private Banking is looking for candidates who do not necessarily need to have a private banking background,” a Hong Kong-based spokesperson told us. “Some private banking RMs come from retail banking – they do not really have the PB experience per se, but they have client servicing experience,” she says, adding that new RM recruits need to “have the ability to harness HSBC’s international network”.

The bank’s decision to broaden its recruitment reach is driven by the scale of its headcount needs, say headhunters. HSBC’s Wealth and Personal Banking division, a newly launched unit that includes the private bank, plans to recruit 500 more staff in Asia by 2022, including an undisclosed but significant number of Singapore and Hong Kong-based private bankers. HSBC announced in 2018 that headcount across its Asian wealth teams would rise by 1,300 in four years, and it has already taken on 800 of these people.

HSBC is also expanding at the same time as many of its rivals, which has made it more difficult for all firms to hire experienced private bankers, who are in short supply across Asia. In January, Morgan Stanley said it wanted to add 30 to 35 private bankers in Singapore and Hong Kong in 2020, while Goldman Sachs announced an expected three-year 50% rise in its Asian RM headcount and Nomura revealed plans to take on more than 40 RMs over the same period.

Within the broader retail banking sector, so-called priority or privilege banking RMs (serving mass-affluent clients who are rich but whose investable assets are typically below US$1m) are best placed to make the move into private banking jobs, say recruiters. The transition can be smooth, provided that priority RMs already have clients who are “private banking material”, says headhunter Rahul Sen, referring to clients whose wealth is rising and who need more sophisticated products.

Banks with retail and private banking arms, such as DBS and Standard Chartered, incentivise their top-performing priority bankers to earn internal promotions into private banking roles, says Sen, a former Merrill Lynch private banker who is now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. But Sen says hiring externally, in the manner of HSBC, is less common.

HSBC’s private bank in Asia is also hiring from its main rivals. As we were the first to report in November, Christine Wong joined from Credit Suisse as Greater China head of private wealth solutions (PWS). In September, Citi veteran Steven Weekes became head of PWS for Southeast Asia, while in August, Hong Kong-based Lina Lim joined from JP Morgan as regional head of discretionary for Asia Pacific. Around the same time, HSBC took on DBS’s Rocky Cheung as head of investment counseling for mainland China and Taiwan, and hired Simon Hwang, formerly of Citi, as investment counseling team head for mainland China. In July, Andrew Lau returned to HSBC as desk head for the Hong Kong market, having spent the previous five years at Credit Suisse.

HSBC’s hiring in Asian private banking is a key part of its sweeping overhaul of its business, which was announced last month. The firm is focusing even more intensely on its dominant Asian franchise as it cuts about 35,000 roles globally, including in the UK and US. 

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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