By Sumeet Chatterjee and Anshuman Daga
HONG KONG/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Leading private banks plan to increase staff managing Chinese and Hong Kong wealth offshore by up to a third, largely focusing on Singapore, which they expect to benefit from rising political uncertainty in the former British colony, sources said.
Global wealth managers including UBS, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer already employ hundreds of bankers in Singapore and have smaller teams in locations such as Zurich dedicated to managing wealth for clients in Greater China, which includes Hong Kong.
"As client queries from China and Hong Kong are going up, everyone is looking to lock-in (bankers) before supply runs out," said a banker with one of the top three wealth management firms in Asia.
"Even when Singapore is under lockdown due to the virus, some banks have started reaching out to candidates over video calls as the pool of mandarin-speaking private bankers is not very big here," the banker said.
According to bankers and headhunters, the banks plan to boost hiring by 20% to 30%, or up to a total of around 75 people, over the next year in their offshore Greater China teams. They declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Demand for private bankers for the so-called Greater China desks in Singapore has been rising since last year as pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong pushed some clients to consider alternate locations for parking their wealth.
China's plans for a national security law in Hong Kong have added to concerns over the risk of a flight of capital and talent as Beijing tightens its squeeze on the city.
Beijing and Hong Kong authorities insist the security legislation is aimed at a small number of "troublemakers" who pose a national security threat and say it will not curb freedoms or hurt investors.
Still, bankers expect rich Chinese will worry the law could allow mainland authorities to track and seize their wealth, so they are likely to park fewer funds in Hong Kong, sources said last month.
"Julius Baer has been growing our Greater China franchise in Singapore over the past five years," David Shick, head of private banking for Greater China at Julius Baer, said in an emailed statement.
"We will continue to hire the top and right talent in both the Singapore and Hong Kong locations as Asia is our group's important second home market," he said, without giving any hiring details.
Credit Suisse and UBS, both of whom have also been selectively hiring in China and Hong Kong in recent months, declined to comment.
Hong Kong competes fiercely with Singapore to be considered Asia's premier offshore wealth hub.
Globally, Hong Kong ranked second in wealth per adult after Switzerland in mid-2019, and 10th in the number of people with more than $50 million in assets, a Credit Suisse report shows.
Deposits by non-residents into Singapore bank accounts jumped a record 44% in April, while foreign currency deposits grew 20% in the same month, central bank data showed earlier this month. The central bank said later that media reports of large flows of deposits from Hong Kong were incorrect.
"The business has been growing at double digits and it will gain further momentum as we see clients moving more funds to locations such as Singapore," a Singapore-based senior wealth manager at a leading European bank said.
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong and Anshuman Daga in Singapore: Editing by Neil Fullick)