As recently as six or seven years ago, I was still enjoying the golden period of my career in Asian private banking. Most of my working hours were spent doing the things that might spring to mind when you think ‘private banking’: talking to clients and structuring deals for them.
These days, however, I’m still technically a relationship manager at the same US bank in Hong Kong, but I often consider myself more a compliance officer than a banker. The other day I spent around 70% of my time dealing with client compliance issues. Admittedly, this is at the extreme end – but you see my point.
To give you a broad example of what I mean, my bank has added more layers of checks and balances onto our current clients. We used to do due diligence on them every three years, then it became two...now it’s one.
While regulators in Asia are driving down this timescale, banks in Asia are actually trying to stay ahead of the game and carry out more regular client reviews than are required by law. Due-diligence updates are basically coming in all the time for me to help compliance with. I did eight client reviews in February alone – that’s a lot of work and time away from generating revenue.
Moreover, private bankers are of course expected to bring in new clients – it’s a competitive landscape in Asia with some firms having quit the market completely over the two years. But while at the start of my career (I’ve worked in Hong Kong wealth for about 13 years) I could open an account for a client in days, now it might take months.
These delays have the added effect of discouraging people from moving jobs. Tier-two private banks are trying to poach people from firms like mine, but are finding it difficult. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing, but compliance is the main reason I really can’t be bothered looking at other opportunities myself.
Could I really convince enough of my clients to move with me and go through an arduous onboarding process which examines every source of their wealth? Moving means a pay increase, a better job title and perhaps even a guaranteed bonus. But in Asian private banking you have to start hitting your revenue targets in less than a year after joining a new firm – and it’s largely compliance that makes this a problem.
Thomas Cheong (a pseudonym) is a senior relationship manager at a US bank in Hong Kong.
Photo by Oxa Roxa on Unsplash
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