Coronavirus travel bans not dimming demand for China desk bankers in Singapore

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Coronavirus travel bans not dimming demand for China desk bankers in Singapore

Private banks in Singapore, including JP Morgan, are expected to bolster their China desks this year by hiring more relationship managers to serve ultra-high net worth (UHNW) clients from the mainland. This is despite Singapore-based relationship managers being effectively unable to meet China-based clients in person as banks ban staff travel to China, and the Singapore government prevents PRC passport holders from visiting the country in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

JP Morgan currently already has two vacancies in its UHNW China team in Singapore. Headhunters say other banks (in particular UBS and Credit Suisse) will open up jobs later this quarter as bonuses are paid and HR teams deal with interview backlogs caused by shifting interviews to video as part of their coronavirus precautionary strategies.

The JP Morgan jobs are at associate and associate/vice president level, suggesting that the demand for China desk RMs in Singapore is now spreading beyond the senior RMs who banks typically hire first.

“Greater China bankers are in demand generally in Singapore this year,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. “And if a banker moves from Hong Kong to Singapore, Chinese clients will typically happily move their assets to Singapore as well,” he adds.

Although the civil unrest in Hong Kong last year may have given Chinese millionaires and billionaires an extra incentive to shift assets to Singapore and launch family offices there, it’s not the main driver. “Encouraging regulatory and tax regimes in Singapore make it conducive for Chinese clients,” says Gagan Mehrotra, a private banker who left Standard Chartered last year to manage his fintech firm.

The city state is also emerging as an alternative destination to Hong Kong for wealthy Chinese who want to live offshore rather than just park their money there. Singapore’s recently crowned richest person is originally from China. Zhang Yong, whose company Haidilao runs a chain of hotpot restaurants across Asia, became a Singaporean citizen last year and has a net worth of US$13.8bn, according to Forbes.

Vincent Chui, Morgan Stanley’s head of wealth management in Asia, speaking to Bloomberg last year, noted an increase in wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs setting up offshore family offices, particularly in Singapore. His firm, along with others which service family offices, such as UBS and Credit Suisse, is looking to take advantage of this trend.

Photo by Zhu Hongzhi on Unsplash

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