'Crazy' pay hikes for Singapore, Hong Kong wealth managers

With great wealth comes great remuneration.

The race to manage the money of Asia's burgeoning army of millionaires has pushed pay hikes for wealth managers to the highest in over a decade. Those willing to jump to a rival are getting increases of 30 per cent or more in Hong Kong and Singapore, private bankers and recruiters say.

"It's a crazy market," said Mr Derrick Tan, head of Greater China and North Asia at Bank of Singapore, the private bank of OCBC Bank, which aims to double the number of relationship managers it has in Hong Kong and Singapore within two years. "Every day we're still discovering new high-net-worth clients."

The two cities, the region's biggest private banking hubs, probably have fewer than 10,000 licensed relationship managers, according to Credit Suisse Group, the region's third-largest private bank. Last year, almost 2,000 new millionaires were minted every day in the region, according to data from Capgemini SE.

Ms Amy Lo, a 30-year veteran of the industry and head of Hong Kong's Private Wealth Management Association, said: "It won't be easy to retain people when they can easily get a 20 per cent to 30 per cent premium and an upgrade in title."

Seven out of 10 wealth clients in Asia are entrepreneurs and as they hand over the reins to the next generation, the demand for expertise to manage the family's investments is growing, said Ms Lo, who is also UBS Group's head of wealth management for Greater China.

On average, a relationship manager at a major bank handled US$341 million (S$470 million) in assets under management, or AUM, last year, according to Asian Private Banker. Those who change employer typically bring with them up to half the assets they manage for clients.

"AUM means everything," said Mr Geoffrey Bevan, practice leader for private banking in Hong Kong at recruiter Asia Carbon Search. "Banks make a significant amount of money on the AUM, so they've got the ability to pay. Anybody who is a top performer, with strong AUM and return on assets, is going to be in demand and people are willing to pay for that."

Base salary increases can be from 30 per cent to 45 per cent, he said. "This is the biggest increment that I've seen in 10 years."

Most acute is the demand for Mandarin speakers. China is Asia's fastest-growing market, with some 1.2 million millionaires, most of them new to private banking. Many keep overseas assets in Hong Kong and Singapore, where they often own property or businesses and even send their children to school.

In Singapore, the setting for the recently released movie Crazy Rich Asians, more than a third of the private condos sold to foreigners since 2013 were bought by Chinese nationals.

One Mandarin speaker with a few years' experience as a private banker said that they recently enjoyed a 30 per cent pay jump when moving to another firm in Singapore, which is expanding its offshore China team.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline ''Crazy' pay hikes for S'pore, HK wealth managers'. Print Edition | Subscribe