Barclays to build up Singapore private banking business in Asia push

Barclays is seeking to rebuild in some of the markets it exited. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Barclays plans to make key hires in investment banking and wealth management across Asia next year as the British lender plots its return to some of the world's fastest-growing economies after a 2016 restructuring.

The bank - which is benefiting from a boom in deals and trading along with its Wall Street rivals - is seeking to rebuild in some of the markets it exited, and is targeting China, India, Singapore and Australia to expand, according to Mr Jaideep Khanna, head of Barclays Asia-Pacific and India chief executive.

He said Barclays plans to build up its private banking business in Singapore, and investment banking in Australia by hiring locally.

The bank has a stake in Australian advisory firm Barrenjoey Capital Partners, which hired a number of prominent dealmakers last year from banks including UBS and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

It is also hiring in Japan and Hong Kong.

"We are profitable in the region and I fully expect it to continue in 2022," Mr Khanna, 56, said in an interview. "Our focus is going to be consistent - try and stick to the areas where we are strong. There are enough areas for us to drive returns today and that's what we are focused on."

Barclays is expanding in Asia after former CEO Jes Staley unleashed a global round of job cuts five years ago that shuttered its cash securities operations across Asia.

The bank had then scaled back operations in countries including Australia, South Korea and Malaysia, but kept its prime brokerage and derivatives business in the region.

"Barclays in 2021-2022 is a very different business from that existed prior to 2016," Mr Khanna said. "It is much more focused now, generating better returns with more local knowledge and more self-awareness."

'Holy grail'

The bank joins rivals such as HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered in beefing up its presence in Asia with a focus on China as President Xi Jinping opens up one of the world's largest banking markets to foreign competition. Barclays has already made a number of strategic appointments in the region this year, including a regional head of distressed debt and special situations debt trading.

"In China, we are small, we see the potential and we want to continue to invest in a calibrated and deliberate manner there," he said. "Diversification in financial services is the holy grail. That has saved firms."

Unlike peers such as UBS Group and Citigroup, Barclays currently has a small presence in China and operates through a single branch and a representative office.

In India, where Barclays has the highest number of employees outside of Britain, the bank plans to invest just over US$400 million (S$544.7 million) to grow its corporate, investment and wealth management businesses after a flurry of deals and investments in the South Asian nation, it said in August.

Barclays is "probably the only international bank of our size and stature that has the regional CEO based out of India - that gives a sense to how important India is," Mr Khanna said.

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