By Sumeet Chatterjee
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Standard Chartered PLC has seen the departure of at least four senior Asia-based bankers from its private banking unit in recent months, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said, amid growing earnings pressure at the business.
The unit is, however, adding 15 private bankers in London in the March quarter for serving clients in the Middle East, two separate people with knowledge of the matter said.
StanChart's private banking business caters to wealthy individuals across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, through booking centres in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, India, London and Jersey.
The unit, however, has weighed on the group's earnings in the last couple of years, as competition in Asia, which accounts for bulk of its revenue, has intensified and market volatility has impacted the assets it manages.
Among those who left the London-headquartered bank in the past six months include Teddy Kwong, managing director and market head for Hong Kong, and Peter Lam, managing director and team leader for Hong Kong, said the people.
Both Hong Kong-based Kwong and Lam joined StanChart in the first half of 2017 from the regional private banking unit of HSBC Holdings PLC. It was not immediately clear where the two are headed.
Ray Li, StanChart private banking managing director and head of relationship management, has also left after having worked at the bank for more than a decade, said the people and according to his LinkedIn profile.
The Asia, Africa and Middle East-focused bank has also lost India private banking head Sandeep Das, who joined Barclays PLC last month as India head of its business that caters to ultra high networth clients, as per a Barclays announcement.
A StanChart spokeswoman in Singapore declined to comment, but said that the bank continued to invest in and hire for its private banking business in 2019.
"Our Private Bank has completed two years of repositioning and is building a stronger wealth platform that complements the business," the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
The reasons for the departures of Kwong, Lam, Li and Mumbai-based Das were not clear and they could not immediately be reached for comment. The sources were not authorised to speak with media and so declined to be identified.
MIDDLE EAST PUSH
Loss before tax at the private banking business widened to $14 million last year from $1 million in 2017, the bank's annual report showed. Its assets under management also dropped 8 percent last year from nearly $65 billion in 2017.
Chief Executive Bill Winters said at an earnings call last month that the private banking unit had added new relationship managers to serve its wealthy clients, and is investing more to "fundamentally transform" the business.
Part of the reason for the sluggish growth in assets is that StanChart has had to stop banking some customers who would not disclose enough information about the source of their wealth, Winters had said.
"We've done a thorough reboot, we've added significantly to our numbers of relationship managers, and income is increasing."
StanChart is bulking up for a bigger share of the Middle East market at a time when others are also expanding to tap the growing client base that includes wealthy business people, family offices and non-resident Indians.
StanChart declined to comment on the region's hiring plans.
The number of people in the Middle East with individual assets of more than $500 million is projected to grow by 28 percent to 500 in 2022, according to the Knight Frank 2018 Wealth report.
DBS Group Holdings Ltd, Southeast Asia's largest bank, said in November it would almost double its Dubai private banking staff to triple revenue for those operations in the Middle East by 2023.
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar in DUBAI, Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE and Lawrence White in LONDON; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Muralikumar Anantharaman)