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“We underestimate our strengths”: Lok Yim on HSBC GPB’s plan for Asia domination

Lok Yim, HSBC
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Lok Yim is a rare species in Hong Kong. In more than two decades as one of the city’s top private bankers, he has never opened an account with HSBC, the territory’s biggest lender.

While that has recently changed, with Yim just over six months ago taking the helm of HSBC Global Private Banking (HSBC GPB) in Asia Pacific, it could be argued that it also gave the former Deutsche Bank and Citi executive the fresh perspective needed to take his employer’s private wealth proposition to the next level.

Since taking on the role, Yim has experienced first-hand several layers of HSBC’s wealth proposition in the region, from retail to mass affluent to HNW and UHNW. Unlocking the full breadth of opportunities that arise from closer collaboration between these segments – across markets ranging from Hong Kong to mainland China to India – will be key to his success in the job.

Eyes on number one spot

When it was announced in late 2023 that Yim would succeed veteran Siew Meng Tan, the synergies were clear. In addition to the leadership capabilities from his prior tenure as regional CEO of Deutsche Private Bank, the UK-educated Yim benefits from both Asian and international perspectives – something that resonates with HSBC GPB’s strategy of plugging regional clients into a global network of investments, booking centres and wealth planning capabilities.

His move to HSBC GPB also appears to be a tacit acknowledgement that the centre of gravity in Asian private banking is shifting away from Switzerland in the wake of UBS’s merger with Credit Suisse and amid US banks paring their ambitions in the region.

“I was looking at who could possibly dominate the market – and how I could help in that journey. And in my mind, there were only three banks I could think of that could do this – and one of them was HSBC,” Yim explained, intriguingly.

Comparison of HSBC GPB AUM growth in Asia-Pacific versus Deutsche Bank PB (Source: APB Insights AUM Pro)

“What excited me was that I could feel a lot of people who had joined HSBC in the last two or three years felt the same way – that they could really make a difference in a market environment which had totally turned. That this was the time that we could potentially – that we will – take that market share to be the number one player,” he added.

The drive by HSBC GPB, which had an AUM of US$354 billion at the end of 2023, to be Asia’s number one private bank is on ice for now given the combined might of UBS and Credit Suisse.

But the early signs of Yim’s tenure are promising. In 1Q2024, HSBC Wealth and Personal Banking (WPB) booked US$19 billion of net new invested assets (NNIA) in Asia-Pacific, out of a total of US$27 billion globally. Yim is eager to stress the “I” of that somewhat cumbersome acronym, or the fact that the cash that has been hoovered up by the bank is not just sitting in deposits but is being deployed into products including insurance, alternatives and capital markets solutions.

Fewer, shorter meetings

These inflows have not been brought about by an aggressive hiring spree: if anything, Yim has been quiet when it comes to front office recruitment. Rather, he points to the efforts that have been put into improving internal processes following his arrival.

“HSBC is a very large organisation – and that’s great – but it does mean that we can be very hierarchical,” explained Yim, who has made a point of meeting all of GPB in Asia’s more than 2,000 staff to get a better understanding of how they fit in and how he can help. “It’s making the world feel smaller, so decision-making can be faster, and escalation can be quicker. So it’s bringing, for want of a better word, that entrepreneurial spirit.”

To give an example, Yim has reduced the number of internal meetings by about half, as well as the typical one-hour duration of these meetings to about 30 minutes. This, he believes, has empowered bankers to focus more on improving the client journey in ways that have tangible benefits for HSBC GPB. For one, all client requests in the strategically important UHNW are answered within 24 hours – even if that answer is “no”. “That’s versus saying: ‘okay, let’s have hundreds of hours of meetings to get to maybe where the client wants me to be in three weeks’ time’. That is just not possible,” he explained.

That does not mean that Yim does not see room for improvement in some capabilities. Yim’s former employers Deutsche Bank and Citi are both powerhouses when it comes to global FX trading, and this is one area where he wants to sharpen HSBC’s edge. The bank has deployed new margining capabilities as well as made key hires in the FX space following Yim’s arrival.

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Capability = proposition?

One big difference Yim has faced since his arrival at HSBC is a markedly changed environment for Greater China clientele. For much of his tenure at Deutsche Bank, when interest rates were significantly lower, the key questions for China clientele would have been along the lines of: “How much money can I make on high-yield bonds? And how much leverage can I get?” But the much higher interest rates of today, client conversations are much more focused around wealth planning and how clients can maximise HSBC GPB’s global connectivity.

A recent conversation with a China UHNW client, Yim recalled, ranged from opening a retail account for the client’s son at university in the UK, to risk-adjusted returns on a diversified portfolio, to an overseas property purchase. “Five years ago, these conversations didn’t exist,” believes Yim.

Whether HSBC GPB can dominate the regional market will inevitably come down to how the bank can serve all such requirements.

“Our biggest weakness is we underestimate our strengths,” Yim reckons. “And I think that there are many: whether it’s just our international connectivity; the referrals that we have [across the bank]; the fact that we’re onshore in mainland China and Taiwan; and a trust with over 75 years of history. This is where capability doesn’t necessarily mean proposition.”

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