Morning Coffee: The bank with six bankers is now hiring in Hong Kong

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How small is a small headcount in Asian private banking? Well, last month BMO (the global arm of Bank of Montreal) announced its intention to expand in Asia from a base of just 20 relationship managers (RMs) in the region.

But if you like your employer to be as boutique as you can find without joining the buy-side, you now have an even more minute option: Vontobel. The Zurich-based private bank may have 1,400 employees globally, but only 20 are in Asia (all in Hong Kong) and only six of those are relationship managers.

The firm is hiring, however. RM number six, Tony Lai, has just joined from EFG as an executive director, and Asia CEO Alex Fung, in an interview with Asian Investor, says he now wants to add similarly senior staff to his team. Fung did not provide numbers or a timescale. As is often the case with small private banks in Asia, the inexperienced need to apply – boutiques have little scope to train up their bankers.

Lai’s career history suggests that Vontobel will probably mainly attract RMs who’ve worked outside the top-10 private banks in Asia. He’s had stints at the Republic National Bank of New York, American Express Bank and Bank of East Asia.

Those who join Vontobel may also be looking to escape the relentless product-selling regimes of most other private banks. “We are a smaller player. We don’t emphasise daily trading,” says Fung. But new recruits would also have to convince their clients to have their assets booked in Zurich, rather than locally, and to accept a comparatively small product range. Again, this suggest that other boutiques will be Vontobel's main source of talent.


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