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By: SIOW LI SEN
Publication: The Business Times 15/02/2011
[SINGAPORE] Swiss private bank Julius Baer intends to double the number of bankers in Asia as its strong growth momentum in the region continues.
"We grew from zero in 2006 to 500 people in Asia," said Boris Collardi, Julius Baer chief executive, yesterday. Of the 500, 120-130 are bankers or relationship managers.
The next phase for Julius Baer in Asia is investing in more top people, said the Geneva-based Mr Collardi.
"We're trying to double the number of bankers from the current 120-130," said Mr Collardi, whose wife is Singaporean. He was in town to spend Chinese New Year with his wife's family.
The group launched its internationalisation strategy in 2006 by opening its first office outside Europe in Singapore which today has 300 staff. Singapore is the Asia regional office for Julius Baer, where it houses operations and product specialists as well as bankers. Hong Kong is the other Asian hub.
Julius Baer spent the last five years building up the Asian franchise, he said, and it has already become profitable.
Asia today contributes 10-15 per cent to the group's asset base and is the main contributor to growth, he said.
By 2014, the aim is for Asia assets to make up 20-25 per cent of group assets.
For 2010, Julius Baer posted net profit of 504 million Swiss francs (S$664 million), up 6 per cent, and assets under management rose 10 per cent to 170 billion Swiss francs.
In 2008, Julius Baer became Switzerland's most profitable bank as its much bigger rivals UBS and Credit Suisse posted mega losses.
"We've done reasonably well compared to everybody else," said Mr Collardi. The bank is in a position of strength and is enjoying significant excess capital – its Tier 1 capital ratio was 23.8 per cent at year-end 2010.
Based on this, the bank has upped dividend by 50 per cent and is launching a buyback programme of up to 5 per cent of outstanding shares.
Later this year, the bank is expected to move into new offices in Asia Square where it has an 8-year lease for 71,000 square feet of office space in the 43-storey commercial tower located in Marina Bay.
"We have capacity of up to 700 people," he said.
As for the increasing scrutiny of tax dodgers by governments, Mr Collardi said that the current development in the private bank industry will re-anchor the business.
"Primarily private banking was not created for high net worth individuals not to pay taxes, it was the side effect of clients' decisions," he said.
"Our primary job is to advise clients, to manage and grow their wealth," he added. He said that clients do want to pay taxes and "regularise" their tax positions.
Switzerland is holding advance talks with Germany and the UK for final withholding tax, a model which will be adopted by the rest of the European countries.
"When this is done, Switzerland will no longer be known as a tax haven."
And the threat by a former disgruntled employee to release 2,000 account holders to whistle blowing website WikiLeaks has not upset clients, he said.
"No concerns, we haven't heard from clients," he said.