J. Baer mulls takeovers, partnerships for Asian growth

SINGAPORE • Julius Baer Group Ltd plans to explore options such as acquisitions and partnerships as it seeks to expand its Asia-Pacific wealth management operations, its regional chief said.

The Swiss private bank has identified “core markets” for growth in the offshore centers of Singapore and Hong Kong and the onshore wealth business in China, India and Indonesia, Asia-Pacific head Jimmy Lee said a news briefing in Singapore yesterday.

“These are very high growth centres for private banking,” Lee said. “Definitely we are going for organic growth, we are going for initiatives, we are going for any potential partnerships, we are going for even acquisitions” in the next two to four years, he added.

Lee’s remarks on hiring and acquisitions reflect the strategy of CEO Bernhard Hodler and his predecessor Boris Collardi, who left the Zurich-based bank in a surprise move late last year. The region’s fast-growing wealth industry has attracted both local and international firms, and spurred a number of acquisitions of the smaller players.

Lee said he sees further consolidation “because so many players don’t have critical mass.” Even though regional wealth is growing rapidly, private banks in the region also face rising costs, he noted.

Julius Baer is still refining its plans for China, India and Indonesia, Lee said. But he said the global move towards tax transparency is pushing more private banks into these and other onshore markets, now the veil of confidentiality has been lifted in offshore centers around the world.

Earlier this year, Julius Baer agreed on a partnership with Siam Commercial Bank pcl in a move to address the onshore wealth market in Thailand. Both sides are awaiting a licence from the Bank of Thailand, which may come in the first quarter of 2019, Lee said.

Julius Baer wants to recruit more relationship managers in the Asia-Pacific region but has been constrained by the competitive hiring conditions, Lee said. He was speaking at an event to mark the opening of the firm’s new Singapore office, which has space for more than 1,000 people.

Lee said about a quarter of the bank’s 6,400 employees are based in the region. — Bloomberg