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It’s not all about AUM: Annabel Spring on HSBC’s aspiration to be Asia’s leading private bank

Annabel Spring
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HSBC Global Private Banking (GPB) was close to being the largest private bank in Asia until the two Swiss giants, UBS and Credit Suisse, merged last year.

Following HSBC’s recent inaugural Global Investment Summit (GIS) in Hong Kong, Annabel Spring, global CEO for GPB and Wealth, shared the bank’s secret weapons in aspiring to be Asia’s leading private bank.

“We were briefly the leading wealth manager in Asia, and then the merger of our competitors closed, and then there’s a new aspirational target for us again,” Spring told Asian Private Banker during her visit to Hong Kong.

While the UK lender has seen its client assets rise in 2023, jumping on the high deposits spread wave, UBS GWM’s client assets also shot up to a new high following the historic rescue and acquisition of Credit Suisse. UBS now has assets of over US$600 billion, according to APB Insights, while HSBC had US$305 billion as of 2022. “I am not a big believer in scale, but when we are talking [about] private banking and wealth, we have to be the best and the biggest in quality,” Spring said.

Annabel Spring (first left) spoke at the Hong Kong government’s recent Wealth for Good summit

“We want to be leading in terms of scale and people generally look at AUM for that, but when I look at what we want to provide the clients, we want to be leading the highest customer satisfaction for the right service and segment.”

Products, platforms and people

Among the other retail-linked players, HSBC is the only one that has a full suite of products, services, and people to serve the whole wealth continuum, from retail, affluent, HNW to UHNW and family offices.

Over the past 12 months, HSBC GPB appointed Deutsche Bank veteran Lok Yim as the new regional head of Asia and hired UBS’s former co-head of global family office, Tommy Leung, as head of South and Southeast Asia. The firm also launched a refreshed wealth service, Premier Elite, to target HNW clients and bolstered its UHNW coverage with new bankers.

Lok Yim, HSBC

“We have added a UHNW team and segment focus in Asia, with specific products to support these clients, such as access to the alternatives platform, institutional trading, family offices, philanthropy and trust services,” she pointed out.

“Our products, our platforms and our people are the leading factors. What we are trying to do over the course of this year, is making sure that we are really bringing the full potential of those three things to deliver for our clients and consolidating our growth.”

The bank recently lost its market head for Hong Kong, Bryce Wan, and a Hong Kong market veteran, Rachel Wei, who recently moved to Hang Seng Private Banking.

Growing onshore

HBSC GPB’s client assets have also grown over the past five years. Apart from being a major bank in Hong Kong and Singapore, it has also been reaping the fruits of growing its onshore businesses.


Private banks tend to embark on their China onshore journey by partnering with local security firms through joint ventures. However, HSBC did not go down this route when it launched its onshore coverage for private banking clients in China in mid-2022.

Spring said the bank is investing heavily in China and is already in six key cities. “I am very pleased with the growth. We are acquiring the Citi [consumer banking] business in China, which will give us that extra volume,” Spring shared, adding that the focus now is on consolidating all the offerings to make sure clients get access to everything.


Onshore India is a fresh addition to the GPB business, having launched in July last year. Spring said the list of billionaires in India will only grow every year.

“If we look at the demographic trends, the digitisation trends, and the policy and stable infrastructure growth in India, all of that is leading to a tremendous entrepreneurial culture.  They create businesses and create wealth, and they create opportunity,” she said.


Thailand has become a hotspot for private banks in recent years as the country has seen strong wealth growth. HSBC GPB launched its onshore presence in Thailand in early 2021.

“It’s good to have an onshore business, and we are seeing steady growth,” Spring said. The onshore Thailand presence is also benefiting from the supply chains diversifying away from China and the green transformation, as are Malaysia, Vietnam and India.

Spring added the firm will continue to double down on growth and strive to be strong in each of its onshore markets. However, the model differs from some others in the market as HSBC does not hold a securities licence in Thailand. The business had US$300 million in AUM as of 2022, according to APB Insights.

Asia and the rest of the world

Hong Kong remains HSBC GPB’s largest Asia booking centre, but with Singapore having new leadership in place, Spring is bullish on the growth of both hubs.

“There is never a competition between the two. It’s always making sure that they are both scaling simultaneously. And given both markets focus on the ultra high net worth space, that investment has to be solid on both sides.”

But one question for Spring is how Asia can integrate with the wealth coming from other parts of the world.

“The big trend that we are seeing, is this slight re-polarisation of the world, where the wealth from the rest of the world comes to Asia. We are seeing the Middle East’s interest in both Hong Kong and mainland China, and also Singapore. So, I think we should start talking about Asia and the rest of the world a lot more interactively.”

Cross-bank collaboration

Swiss banks are traditionally known for having strong one-bank propositions, but to Spring, HSBC’s whole-group capabilities are what make it stand out in the global private banking world.

“Our cross-bank collaboration is one of our core strengths,” she stated.

Spring pointed out that the collaboration of GPB and Wealth and Personal Banking (WPB) has enhanced the scale of GPB, hence the bank’s decision to change its GPB threshold from US$5 million to US$2 million, which has seen tremendous volume coming into the private bank.

“And for insurance – none of our competitors have an in-house insurance business globally. So, we get that through our personal banking solutions and up into our private bank. We can do all sorts of customisation, as well as being open architecture in the private bank so that within WPB, collaboration is very strong.”

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