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UBP ponders Asia deals after Coutts purchase

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Union Bancaire Privee, (UBP) the Swiss private bank that increased assets in Asia 10-fold through its purchase of Coutts International, is open to making additional acquisitions as consolidation among regional wealth managers accelerates.
The Geneva-based bank is seeking to double assets under management in Asia and increase its number of relationship managers to about 100 from 60 currently, said Michael Blake, chief executive officer of UBP’s Asian unit.
“The ambition to double is a realistic one,” Blake said, adding the bank can achieve the target by doing more business with existing clients, hiring more bankers, or through acquisitions. “The industry is changing. There are opportunities that will come up, and we have an open mind about what those opportunities might hold,” Blake said Friday in an interview at a private banking conference in Singapore.
With some international banks under pressure to sell assets and retreat to their home markets, Blake said at the conference that he expects more consolidation in Asia over the next six to 12 months.
Merger activity is already on the rise: Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings Ltd. bought the Asian private banking assets of Societe Generale SA last year. Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. agreed earlier this year to purchase the Barclays Plc private-banking operations in Hong Kong and Singapore. And ABN Amro Group NV is considering a sale of its Asia private bank, people with knowledge of the matter said last week.

Coutts Purchase
UBP manages about 10 billion Swiss francs ($10.1 billion) of assets in Asia after its acquisition last year of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc’s Coutts International, compared with 1 billion Swiss francs before the purchase, according to Blake. The bank, founded in 1969, managed to retain about 80 percent of the former Coutts clients after the purchase, he said.
Expanding through acquisitions comes with risks. More than 10 Barclays relationship managers in Hong Kong have decamped to competitors after the U.K. lender agreed to sell its private-banking operations in the city and Singapore to OCBC, people with knowledge of the matter said this month. Star private bankers often take top clients with them when they leave.
Blake said he sees UBP’s next Asian expansion taking place over the “medium term,” declining to be more specific.
“Like many organizations in Asia at the moment, we’re watching what’s happening in the industry very, very carefully and with interest,” said Blake. “We expect further consolidation in the industry. Absolutely, we keep an open mind about opportunities as they arise.”

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