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Private bankers want to flee protest-ridden Hong Kong for stable Singapore. But most of them can’t

The political unrest in Hong Kong is causing an increasing number of private bankers in the city to consider relocating to Singapore. But they will find it hard to make the move, unless they specialise in covering the family office sector.

Headhunters have noticed a rise in Hong Kong-based private bankers contacting them about Singapore jobs in recent weeks, citing concerns about the Hong Kong government’s controversial extradition bill and the increasingly fierce protests against it. Their fears are shared by some banking professionals outside the wealth management sector, as we noted in June.

Last week Reuters reported that an unnamed “mid-sized European private wealth advisory firm” is launching its Asian arm in Singapore, having scrapped plans to open it in Hong Kong because of the political situation.

Despite this, large private banks do not appear to be moving jobs from Hong Kong to Singapore. The bulk of Hong Kong private bankers cover mainland Chinese clients, and clients haven’t yet started shifting assets to Singapore in sizeable enough numbers. “The recent instability might drive some clients away from Hong Kong, but it’s not enough to cause major moves in either assets under management or relationship managers,” says Liu San Li, a former private banker, now a business partner at wealth management firm Avallis in Singapore.

“As a rule, RMs cover North Asia from Hong Kong, and Southeast or South Asia from Singapore,” adds Gagan Mehrotra, a private banker who left Standard Chartered in January to manage his fintech firm. “So moving to Singapore is difficult, because private banks are guided by what their clients – not their RMs – want,” he says.

There is an exception to this rule, albeit a specialist one. Chinese entrepreneurs are increasingly setting up family offices in Singapore, and several banks in the Republic are in turn expanding the teams that service family offices (sometimes referred to as intermediaries or external asset manager units). If you’re a Hong Kong-based family-office RM at a bank, landing a similar role in Singapore would be fairly straightforward. 

Morgan Stanley, for example, is hiring for its China-focused family office team in Singapore, Vincent Chui, head of wealth management in Asia, told Bloomberg in January. “Banks in Singapore increasingly need to provide dedicated, specialist services for these family offices,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. “I have three multi-family office clients who are now keener to set up shop in Singapore than Hong Kong, and cover Greater China clients from Singapore,” he adds.

While the unrest in Hong Kong may have given Chinese millionaires and billionaires an extra incentive to launch family offices in Singapore, it’s not the main driver. “This is a trend that’s been ongoing for about two years, mainly because the encouraging regulatory and tax regimes in Singapore make it conducive for Chinese clients,” says Mehrotra.

Image credit: Laoshi, Getty

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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