Private Banker of the Year
Siew Meng Tan
Tan Siew Meng took the reins of HSBC’s Asia private banking franchise at a critical juncture for the business. Globally, the bank was in the throes of refashioning its private banking operations, in a manner that would enable it to better draw on the strengths of the group and, at the same time, feed back into the broader activities of the group. The rationale was that a more integrated private banking division would ultimately enable HSBC to serve its wealthier private clients with greater efficiency and effectiveness. Asia, the epicentre of wealth creation and the hub of HSBC’s global activities, was front and centre of that plan, and it is in Asia where the private bank today is at its most ambitious.
The fact that Tan is not a career private banker is a positive in this sense. She brought to the role decades of experience, most notably from the corporate side of the bank — arguably HSBC’s ‘crown jewel’ business. And because HSBC’s goal was to engender an almost symbiotic relationship between commercial and private banking, as well as between capital markets and retail, Tan’s exposure to and know-how of a broader set of clientele and activities meant she was uniquely placed to drive the newly positioned private banking franchise in Asia.
Thus, with Tan’s appointment as head of Asia global private banking in 2017 came an expectation that her leadership would be instrumental in ensuring that critical milestones were achieved and, ultimately, that HSBC’s vision for a rejuvenated and reintegrated private banking unit was realised.
At the same time, HSBC’s private banking business in Asia was searching for its own momentum. Its legacy relationships were deep and sticky, but there was a pervading sense among industry observers and practitioners that the private bank could and should achieve a lot more, in view of HSBC’s heritage and deep penetration in the market — and especially in Hong Kong.
HSBC Private Banking’s first major salvo arrived in late-2018, when the bank announced its intention to hire 120 new staff in the region by the end of the year, mainly comprising relationship managers and investments specialists, and add 700 new staff by 2022. The bank also outlined digitalisation plans for the region, which included the private banking unit, and addressed the imbalance in its private banking business between Hong Kong and Singapore with plans to double client assets booked in the city-state within five years.
Ambition is one thing, but execution is an altogether different beast. From the get-go, Tan has never wavered in her conviction that these targets can be achieved, and, step by step, she has efficiently and prudently zeroed in on these targets — which remain on-track and are, in fact, ahead of schedule.
But what is more telling is the work being done under the hood by Tan and her team. And this is what Asian Private Banker recognises.
Even a cursory glance at HSBC Private Banking’s financial performance in Asia would tell the keen observer that the quality of the business has improved dramatically since Tan assumed leadership. Notwithstanding robust and steadily increasing revenues — including a real improvement in the revenue mix — and the continued strong growth in client assets, a critical measure to gauge how successful HSBC Private Banking’s efforts have been in coordinating more effectively within the group and doing more with its group-connected clients is performance attributable to cross-bank referrals. And in 2019, Asia not only contributed the lion’s share of global net new asset inflows of US$32 billion, but north of 60% of net inflows were a result of cross-bank collaboration, and overall referral business increased 70%.
Peer closer and it becomes apparent that this positive momentum is in no small part due to the strategic growth initiatives Tan has pursued since her appointment. In Asia, HSBC’s private banking client list is dominated by UHNWIs and business owners, and thus Tan has prioritised developing the private bank’s offering for more sophisticated investors, assembling an UHNW-dedicated team, ramping up investment councillor coverage and expanding the bank’s ability to deliver bespoke and institutional-level solutions. The results were immediate. In less than a year, HSBC Private Banking witnessed a 23% growth in its total UHNW client position and saw its ultra-credentials skyrocket in the industry.
Under Tan’s watch, the private bank’s managed solutions activities have flourished. A major reason is the emphasis that has been placed on quality over quantity and, where viable, exclusivity. In particular, the alternatives advisory business drew in record — and likely industry-leading — inflows in 2019, not because it delivered the most ‘launches’ but because the solutions themselves addressed very real client demands and, in many cases (including its flagship ‘Vision 2019’ discretionary private equity portfolio) made the most of the in-house strength of HSBC Alternative Investments Limited.
Tan has overseen important changes made to the bank’s family office and next-gen offerings — traditionally two areas of strength considering the bank’s expertise in wealth planning and deep multigenerational relationships in Asia. But these are also areas of immense competition. Most notably, Tan presided over the development and relaunch of a refreshed next-gen programme in Hong Kong and Singapore in 2019, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, sustainability, and family legacy — all key focal points of the group as a whole.
That Tan has more than demonstrated her leadership qualities over the past three or so years is beyond question; but what Asian Private Banker applauds is Tan’s ability to galvanise, empower, and rally a large and ambitious team around a common cause, all the while pushing through consequential structural changes with minimal disruption and to maximum effect.
In 2019, Tan set an example for the industry about what it means to lead with passion, resilience, vision, and accountability. For this reason, Tan Siew Meng is Asian Private Banker’s Private Banker of the Year for 2019.