British bank HSBC is now "back in growth mode" in Singapore after investing heavily in turning around revenue and profitability, said a top executive.
Despite a fiercely competitive retail market, the bank has high hopes for its business here, said Mr Anurag Mathur, head of retail banking and wealth management at HSBC Bank (Singapore), who has been in the role for a year.
He told The Straits Times recently: "Customers are also sophisticated (here), but that's good as it encourages innovation and we're often at the cutting edge in Singapore, where some of the things piloted here - and hopefully, increasingly developed here - can then be exported elsewhere in HSBC globally."
The bank has "spent quite a bit of time and investment in incorporating the company here", said Mr Mathur, referring to its move last year to set up a local subsidiary for the retail and wealth business.
"As part of that, we've also upgraded our core banking platforms and infrastructure, such as upgrading branches and opening new ones in the last few years, and improving our products and digital capabilities."
While Mr Mathur was unable to give specific numbers, recent data from the bank showed it has spent more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) on its global digital investment since 2015.
Almost all Singaporeans are international in some shape or form. For instance, some reports show 95 per cent of them travel at least once a year, so they find the international offers we have on our credit cards powerful... We believe Singaporeans will increasingly be international, in terms of where they study, do business, even where they invest. Our strengths are uniquely positioned to help them in that space.
MR ANURAG MATHUR, head of retail banking and wealth management at HSBC Bank (Singapore).
HSBC has 11 branches and about 1,000 employees under the retail banking and wealth management business here.
Competition is particularly high here now, evident from moves by financial institutions here like DBS Bank, which acquired ANZ's wealth management and retail banking business in five markets in Asia last October.
Standard Chartered Bank for its part is chasing the silver dollar in Singapore with the release last month of a new offering for only those aged 55 and older, for instance.
Customers of HSBC's retail banking and wealth management unit are typically those with a minimum of $200,000 with the bank, be it through deposits, or investments, among other things - and that is where growth is for the bank too, said Mr Mathur.
"In that space, we see Singapore continuing to be a growth hub. Wealth management is a key area of growth. The macro conditions are there.
"Singaporeans obviously invest here, but people from around the world, particularly Asia, also like to invest here. According to the BCG wealth report of 2016, offshore wealth booked in Singapore is projected to grow at roughly 10 per cent annually through 2020."
He noted that HSBC is positioned to capture this segment because of several factors such as its international network, its "insurance and asset-management support pillars on the product side and a strong offshore base".
And almost a third of the mass affluent market in Singapore has an HSBC relationship - be it with a banking product or service.
"In the last five years or so, we've seen our deposit balances in current and savings accounts grow at double digits, which is a strong and healthy indicator. Personal loans have grown by double digits in the last four to five years," said Mr Mathur.
While other bankers might say retail banking is surely a local business, HSBC looks at clients from a different point of view.
"What our HSBC Premier customers find is that they can open accounts with us in multiple countries where they have property, investment or worked."
The bank has a feature dubbed "global view, global transfer" that lets clients access "all accounts on one screen".
Mr Mathur said this appeals to t Singapore's expatriate population as they have banking relationships outside Singapore as well.
He noted: "And almost all Singaporeans are international in some shape or form.
"For instance, some reports show 95 per cent of them travel at least once a year, so they find the international offers we have on our credit cards powerful.
"We believe Singaporeans will increasingly be international, in terms of where they study, do business, even where they invest. Our strengths are uniquely positioned to help them in that space."