Our three local banks are targeting private banking because Asians are getting richer and richer, it’s a steady, cash generating business providing a great annuity revenue, and it allows them to take advantage of their large capital base (they are among the safest banks in the world) which is a drag on earnings. One report has DBS as the “strongest bank” in the world, while another has OCBC. Me, I say OCBC because less FTs there, even its ang moh CEO is more-or-less localised. And it has the Lee family as a contrilling shareholder. They are super conservative.
But Investec, a South African investment bank is a lesson for our local banks. In November 2011, it posted a 2% decline in first half earnings after recording a loss at its private banking business and a sharp drop in deal flow.
It had been reducing dependence on lending and deals, and asset and wealth management now account for 40% of operating income, compared with 29% a year ago.
But the private banking division lost £4.9m, hurt by real estate woes in Ireland and Australia. Operating profit before exceptional items totalled £223.63m in the six months to end September, compared to £228.16m in the same period last year.
So losing money in private banking is a possibility
Worse our banks have to spend a lot juz to be in the game. OCBC despite acquiring ING’s Asian private banking biz*, is still a midget even in regional terms when compared to Citi, HSBC, UBS and Credit Suisse. The Bank of Singapore (OCBC’s private bank) expanded its assets under management by 11% in the first nine months of 2011 to US$29 billion. Peanuts by int’l standards.
*It paid, in 2010, US$1.46bn which represents 5.8% of the unit’s assets under management, after adjusting for surplus capital of US$550m. This compares with the 2.3% measure paid by Julius Baer for ING’s Swiss assets which is in line with another European purchase by an American private equity group of a smallish private banking outfit — RHJI’s purchase of Kleinworth Benson from Commerzbank. To be fair to OCBC, it was rumoured that HSBC was willing to pay the same price, but lost out when it was unwilling to give promises that staff would not dismissed. OCBC was willing to give this promise.