Asia private bank assets fall for first time since at least 2013

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Asia's top private banks posted their first drop in assets under management and number of relationship managers in at least three years as the region's economic growth slowed and mounting regulatory pressure forced them to reject some clients.

Total assets at the 20 biggest banks in Asia fell 4.2 per cent to US$1.47 trillion last year, as the number of relationship managers slipped 1.2 per cent to 5,191, according to an Asian Private Banker report released on Wednesday (April 6). The declines were the first since the Hong Kong-based publisher began compiling the data in 2012. It cited stringent US tax compliance law, which made some banks turn away clients with links to that country.

UBS Group, Citigroup and Credit Suisse Group stayed atop the ranking in 2015 based on assets under management.

Banks see private banking as a revenue booster because the number of rich people in Asia is rising as economic growth outpaces that of the rest of the world.

"The good news is that if there is one bright spot in the wealth management world, it is Asia," the publisher said in the report.

UBS plans to double China staff in five years to 1,200 partly by expanding its wealth business in Asia's largest economy, undaunted by the slowdown and stock market turmoil, chief executive officer Sergio Ermotti said in January.

Citigroup's assets under management fell almost 18 per cent to US$210 billion in 2015 when the New York-based lender sold its Japan consumer operations. The number of the bank's relationship managers, who recruit clients and sell services, dropped about 28 per cent to 325 as a result. At Zurich-based Credit Suisse, assets declined 2.2 per cent to US$150.6 billion from 2014, while headcount jumped 14 per cent, according to the report. UBS's assets rose 0.7 per cent to US$274 billion, while its sales staff fell 7.9 per cent to 1,092.

Deutsche Bank, which restructured some businesses including wealth, dropped to eighth place from fifth in the 2015 ranking, as assets under management declined to US$66 billion from US$105 billion, Asian Private Banker said. Julius Baer ranked fourth, DBS Group placed fifth and Morgan Stanley held the sixth spot, with each climbing one rung in the rankings.