BNP Paribas hires for Asia wealth as it mulls Indonesia push

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SINGAPORE (Feb 20): BNP Paribas SA is hiring relationship managers in Asia and considering a push into more of the region’s onshore private banking markets, according to the firm’s head of wealth management for Asia Pacific.

The Paris-based lender is looking to add “a few dozen” to its existing headcount of around 300 wealth bankers, Pierre Vrielinck said in a recent interview. He said Indonesia is among the markets where BNP Paribas is exploring an onshore presence, adding to existing domestic wealth operations in India and Taiwan and its offshore services in Singapore and Hong Kong.

The hiring is part of “a key strategic move to capture assets and the growth” in Asia, Vrielinck said. “You have to be present in all regions, both offshore and onshore."

In the past, the big global banks served their wealthy clients in Asia mostly from the big offshore centers of Singapore and Hong Kong, offering a wide range of international investment products. More recently, they have been establishing onshore operations as well to tap into the growing pool of assets held in those countries.

Indonesia is a particular target of DBS Group Holdings Ltd and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp, Singapore-based banks with large wealth management operations, especially after a tax amnesty in 2016-2017 unearthed some US$346 billion in previously undeclared assets, of which about US$262 billion is parked onshore.

"When you look at the wealth generated in Indonesia, the potential of Indonesia, it’s a massively important country in the region," said Vrielinck.

BNP Paribas plans to boost assets under management in Asia to US$120 billion by 2020, from about US$100 billion at present, Vrielinck said last year. The French bank was ranked ninth, behind UBS Group AG and other Swiss, US and Singaporean giants of the wealth business, in the 2017 league tables compiled by Asian Private Banker.

The hiring and the onshore banking push reflect BNP Paribas’s desire to “be in the tier-one division,” Vrielinck said.

BNP Paribas’ wealth management unit wasn’t “too badly hurt” by the volatility in financial markets in the last quarter of 2018 because of its emphasis on discretionary portfolio management and contractual advisory business, Vrielinck said.

A discretionary portfolio involves the bank being mandated to make investment decisions on behalf of the client. Contractual advisory is similar, except the client makes the final decision on whether to execute the purchases or sales. Both fee-based services differ from the more volatile brokerage model, which is widespread in Asia, where customers decide which products they buy from their banks and pay commissions for each trade.

BNP Paribas managed to “increase massively” its penetration of the discretionary and contractual advisory businesses last year, Vrielinck said. “From that respect, 2018 has been a great year,” he added.