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Foreign firms boost private banking

By Wei Tian and Wu Yiyao in Shanghai | China Daily USA | Updated: 2014-04-18 11:40

More foreign firms are seeking to tap into China's burgeoning private-banking market, taking different approaches for a potentially huge market.

LGT Group, a leading European private-banking service provider, which is also asset manager for Lichtenstein's princely family, explored the potential by bringing the family's art collection to Beijing and Shanghai, two of China's richest cities.

"The art exhibitions contribute to the cultural exchange between China and Lichtenstein. It's even better if they contribute to the business relationship between the two countries," said Prince Max of Liechtenstein, who is also CEO and president of LGT.

"More (Chinese wealthy families) are thinking for the next generations, and they are seeking advice from us about succession planning," he said during his visit to Shanghai. "The engagement of a wealthy family beyond financial activities, such as into philanthropy and cultural activities, is needed to give the family more identity and meaning."

Although overseas immigration has become a general trend among China's wealthiest, Prince Max said it is not a good idea to copy what other people are doing. "If everyone else is buying a property in London, it might be a little late for you to do so," he said.

While the first generation of China's wealthiest sought fast growth, the second generation is more concerned with preservation and transferring of assets from a risk diversification standpoint, said Vincent Duhamel, head of Asia for Lombard Odier, a Geneva-based private bank.

According to 2013 version of China's personal wealth report by China Merchants Bank and Bain & Co, "maintaining the wealth" has replaced "creating more fortune" as the top priority for private -banking clients, followed by "quality lifestyle" and "children's education".

"Demands of China's wealthy people for private banking are shifting from pure products to more complicated and diversified services," Duhamel said.

In March, Lombard Odier established a strategic partnership for private banking with Shanghai-listed Industrial Bank Co, which is expected to help high net-wealth Chinese invest globally.

Meanwhile, DBS Bank Ltd also announced in March that it has agreed to acquire the Asian private-banking business of Societe Generale in Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as selected parts of its trust business, for $220 million.

This represents approximately 1.75 percent of assets based on Societe Generale Private Banking Asia's $12.6 billion of assets under management as of Dec 31. The transaction, which is expected to be completed later this year, will increase its high net-worth assets under management by more than 20 percent, the Singaporean lender said.

The growing wealthy and middle-class population in Asia are increasing demands for wealth management, said Chng Sok Hui, CFO of DBS.

For private banks, China is a market with a huge number of potential clients. As of 2013, there are more than 1 million people with investable assets of more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million), a survey showed.

However, the private-banking market remains very much unexplored. According to commercial banks' 2012 annual reports, Bank of China has the largest number of private-banking clients, 40,000, and the Agricultural Bank of China has about 35,000, while Ping An Bank has 6,000.

Cartier Lam, vice president of BEA China, said China's private banking mainly serves the new-rich families, for whom it is very hard to identify core needs, and similar products and services among banks have resulted in homogeneous competition.

For foreign banks, private banking mostly refers to managing personal wealth. But according to Dai Xiaohong, managing director of Standard Chartered private-banking China, nearly 60 percent of its clients are entrepreneurs, most of whom have not separated their corporate business and personal wealth.

"In China, there is a lot of information, but lack of planning. People need not to be afraid of hiring experts," said Prince Max.

Contact the writers at weitian@chinadaily.com.cn and wuyiyao@chinadaily.com.cn

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