Credit Suisse or UBS: Where should you work as a banker in Asia?

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Credit Suisse and UBS are battling to secure the assets of Asia’s millionaires and billionaires – and to hire the region’s best private bankers.

The two firms boast the largest headcounts in Asian private banking – UBS has more than 1,000 relationship managers in the region, while its Swiss rival employs 620.

But which is the best firm to work for if you’re a private banker in Asia considering your next move? Careers experts in the sector give us their opinions across 12 key areas.

Best for schmoozing with investment bankers: Credit Suisse

UBS and Credit Suisse are both trying to provide M&A and capital markets services to Asian entrepreneurs. “While UBS may have a larger investment banking division, Credit Suisse has had more success in creating synergy between IB and PB. Its ‘one bank’ concept has been instrumental in cementing this,” says Liu San Li, a former Coutts private banker, now client director in private wealth management at search firm EMA Partners in Singapore.

Best if you want a job now: tie

Credit Suisse was the clear winner here in the recent past – it took on 100 relationship managers in the year to end-June 2016, while UBS trimmed senior management last year and its RM headcount fell by 72. The tables have turned somewhat, however, because UBS announced earlier this month that it plans to hire 100 private bankers in Hong Kong over the next two years. They will target high-net-worth clients (those with $2m to $50m to invest). Credit Suisse, meanwhile, employed 20 fewer Asian RMs in Q1 than it did the previous quarter. But more hiring seems likely because the firm still needs 180 more private bankers by the end of 2018 to meet CEO Tidjane Thiam’s target of having an 800-strong RM workforce in Asia.

Best for technology: UBS

“Information technology, trade-input processes, structured-notes processes, client-portfolio recommendations and report-generating processes: these are generally slightly more automated at UBS, at least for now,” says a Singapore-based headhunter who asked not to be named because of client confidentiality. Expect technological competition between the banks to heat up in Asia in the near future. Credit Suisse chose Singapore to develop and launch its new digital wealth platform, while UBS has opened an IT innovation lab in the Republic.

Best for bonuses: UBS

At Credit Suisse, expect a bonus (calculated as a percentage of annual revenue minus base pay) of about 8% – UBS is a notch higher at 12%. But as our bonus survey shows, both firms have lower percentages than all their major rivals – boutique European wealth managers pay up to 20%, while you can get 30% at US private banks. The Swiss giants generally rely on their superior product platforms and client coverage to lure talent in Asia.

Best for flat management: Credit Suisse

“UBS is bigger and has more layers to its management, but it has taken strides in clearing up its structure. It let go of quite a few senior managerial roles in Asia in 2016,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now head of wealth management at search firm The Omerta Group. “CS has some unnecessary layers too – there are a few managers there who are more administrative heads than market heads.”

Best for training: tie

Sen says both banks are “very good” on this front compared with their rivals in Asia. The UBS Business University in Singapore has been running training in wealth management and other subjects since 2007. But in 2014 Credit Suisse opened a Wealth Institute in Singapore, providing courses focused on client-advisory services and leadership development. “I’d now tie the training setup between the two banks because the CS institute has become very comprehensive in its scope,” says Pathik Gupta, regional head of wealth management at consultancy McLagan in Singapore.

Best for working with the ultra rich: UBS

“UBS has more experience in handling the UHNW clients and has more of them on its books,” says Liu. “In my opinion, it also has the best and broadest infrastructure and product suite for private banking in the region, so it has customised more products and services for UHNW.”

Best for getting in as a graduate: Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse launched a ‘Grow Your Own’ training programme in 2012 aimed at turning fresh graduates into junior private bankers. Last year 43 private banking analysts are joining the scheme in Singapore and Hong Kong, double the 2015 intake.

Best brand for attracting new clients: tie

Despite UBS’s size advantage (it manages US$286.4bn in Asian assets compared with US$163.8bn at Credit Suisse), our experts called this one a dead heat. “UBS is a larger, more formal – but sometimes more intimidating – brand to clients in Asia, while Credit Suisse’s brand is generally perceived to be more friendly,” says another Singapore-based headhunter. However, given that both banks are big players in Asia, the main stumbling block to joining either of them is that too many of your clients may already have some of their money managed there – it’s common for wealthy Asians to use several private banks.

Best for product support: UBS

Both banks outpace their rivals in Asia when it comes to the products they offer. “UBS has the best product platform and support in the region. That’s not to imply CS is inferior – it’s not very far behind,” says Liu. “Bankers I speak with at UBS point out how comprehensive and detailed its product training is – it’s a real emphasis,” says the second anonymous headhunter.

Best for regional autonomy: Credit Suisse

“Credit Suisse’s new structure means local management in Asia has more autonomy over decisions, while UBS still has global decision making,” says Gupta from McLagan. “CS can be more agile and its bankers and clients generally have faster turnarounds on their needs.”

Best services for external asset managers and family offices: UBS

“Both CS and UBS have top-notch products and services for EAMs and family offices,” says Liu. “However, UBS has bigger divisions, more RMs, and bigger infrastructure to service them.”

Image credit: jacoblund, Getty

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