Here's how Asian bankers can avoid post-merger career meltdown   

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It’s been a year of takeovers and turmoil if you work in Asian private banking.

DBS is buying ANZ’s Asian wealth unit, OCBC is doing the same with Barclays, and UBP has already acquired Coutts’ operations in the region.

Other buy-outs may follow – ABN AMRO, for example, is also considering pulling out of wealth management in Asia.

How can you keep your career on track if your private bank has been taken over by a rival? Experts we spoke to say you must ask yourself these questions:

Will you be downgraded?

Larger firms typical have mass-affluent businesses alongside their private banks – as a relationship manager you don’t want to end up in one of these. When DBS bought the Asian wealth business of Societe Generale in 2014, for example, it moved a number of SocGen RMs into its mass-affluent Treasures unit because their clients didn’t meet the required S$5m of assets under management. “It’s possible that most of ANZ’s RMs could also end up in Treasures following the DBS takeover,” says a source with knowledge of the banks.

Will you hate the company culture?

“Some RMs I know have found mergers hard because the coming together of the banks’ two cultures was a real shock,” says Amelia Black, a managing consultant at search firm GRMExecutive. When Julius Baer took over Merrill Lynch's Asian wealth arm in 2012, for example, some Merrill RMs initially “thought it would be almost a reverse takeover allowing them to carry on with their US-style banking culture”, says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now head of wealth management at search firm The Omerta Group. “But in the end Julius Baer people dominated the management in Asia and the merged firm was much more conservative than the Merrill guys expected.”

Could you get on well with the team head?

“Your success as an RM at a merged firm is unfortunately dependent to a large extent on what kind of team head you’re under,” Liu San Li, a former Coutts private banker, now client director in private wealth management at headhunters EMA Partners in Singapore. “It’s a huge challenge if there’s no chemistry with your boss, so erase all pre-conceived notions you have of them and start with a neutral mindset. The worst thing is starting on the wrong foot and destroy any chemistry right away.”

Can you keep your clients?

“RMs must stay close to clients and assure them that, if anything, the acquisition will create more value for them,” says Sean Kang, director of wealth management at consultancy McLagan. “This is especially important if the acquiring bank is relatively unknown in Asia or doesn’t have as strong a brand name. You’ll have to understand what the new bank offers so you can pitch it to clients.”

Will you have duplicate relationships?

Asia’s millionaires and billionaires typically use several private banks, so there’s a risk they could also be clients of the acquiring firm. “Almost all banks don’t allow co-management of clients,” says Liu. “Usually the most senior RM from either bank is given the priority in managing the relationship.”

Does the new bank offer the right products?

Your clients won’t be happy if you can’t offer them the products they want at the new bank. “So do your homework early – compare the two banks’ products and find alternatives for your clients if identical ones aren’t available,” advises Liu from EMA. “Some of the Merrill bankers weren’t keen on Julius Baer because it was a pure-play private bank, not a brokerage, and didn’t have all the products. But ANZ has a more vanilla platform, so products may not be a problem when DBS takes it over,” says Sen from Omerta Group.

Can you cover the same markets?

Some of the larger private banks only allow RMs to cover clients in a limited number of Asian markets (often just one country). “This is problematic for RMs if they have clients across several markets,” says Liu. “As much as possible, you have to handcuff your relationships before officially joining the new bank. Once onboard it’s awkward and politically incorrect to be too aggressive about coverage.”

Image credit: christingasner, Getty

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