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Mountain-running woman leaves Singapore startup for expanding Swiss bank

Moving from banking to fintech is a bit of a cliche these days – but returning to a traditional bank after a stint at a startup is still a novelty. Kayoko Francis, however, has done just that. Francis co-founded Singapore-based robo advisor Finesse Digital in August 2017, but she’s just landed a director-level role in Julius Baer’s expanding intermediaries international team in the city state.

Finesse Digital is a business-to-business startup that provides financial institutions with a platform to automate financial planning, saving and investing for customers. Francis’ LinkedIn profile indicates that she ceased being the firm’s CEO in March and ended her stint as a director in July. Francis didn't reply to a request to comment on her move, and Julius Baer declined to comment.

Francis has joined an expansionist team at Julius Baer. The intermediaries unit typically works with external asset managers (EAMs) such as family offices, who invest on behalf of wealthy people in Asia and globally. Like rivals UBS, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, Julius Baer is recruiting private bankers to service the growing number of EAMs that are setting up in Asia.

As we reported last year, Julius Baer hired Vianne Choo from Vontobel as team head of intermediaries for Southeast Asia and took on James Tan from Maybank as a relationship manager on the same desk. Hong Kong-based Sandro Treier was promoted to head of intermediaries for Greater China earlier this year.

Not all the talent is going JB’s way, however. Musical chairs is rife among EAM/intermediaries/family office units of private banks in both Singapore and Hong Kong. In May, former Julius Baer Greater China intermediaries head Pamela Hsu Phua, along with four colleagues, joined Pictet, where she is now heading up a new family office team. That same month Credit Suisse set up a new family office unit in Hong Kong to attract more assets from rich families across Greater China and appointed Tan Mae Shen to lead it. And as we also reported in May, UBS appointed Chester Wong, formerly of HSBC, as desk head of global family office in Hong Kong.

New Julius Baer recruit Francis has direct experience of the intermediaries sector – she was a portfolio manager for wealth manager SingAlliance from 2012 to 2017. Francis grew up in Japan and did her undergraduate studies in London, but a stint in China during as a student ultimately led to her starting her career at Deloitte in Beijing, where she worked as an auditor between 2003 to 2005. After two and a half years as an equity trader at Citi in Hong Kong, Francis moved to Singapore in 2010 and made another career change – she became a Morgan Stanley private banker.

Last year Francis, a triathlete, told the Business Times about her passion for running. “I like to run. In the mountains. There are no mountains in Singapore, so I do three laps of running up and down the stairs in my office building during lunchtime: floor one to 59. It’s not fun but it’s part of the training,” she said.

Photo by mauro paillex on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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