ON a regular week, Kaven Leung might find himself having breakfast with a client in Singapore, taking a conference call with another client from Manila in the afternoon, before heading back home to Hong Kong the next day. Two days later he’s off again this time for Indonesia, and perhaps Taiwan. It’s the type of work that he has gotten used to, he says, just like most private bankers have. Leung is the deputy region head for Asia Pacific of Bank Julius Baer, a Swiss-based private bank. For him, work is where his clients need him to be. He says this is especially important in the world of private banking, where clients are ultra high net-worth individuals, whose time can be literally gold.
His aggressiveness in addressing his clients’ needs, he says, are but a reflection of what his bank represents. “The defining character of how you can be successful is how the institution aligns itself with the needs of the client,” Leung stresses, which is the dictum his institution lives by. Bank Julius Baer is part of the Julius Baer Group Ltd. It has locations in more than 20 countries, with Switzerland and Asia being the group’s two home markets. It was founded in 1890 in Zurich, when an exchange office was opened by Ludwig Hirschhorn and Theodor Grob. Six years later, Joseph Michael Uhl and Julius Baer joined the firm, when Grob left. In 1901, Julius Baer acquired the bank and remained as partner until 1922. Since then, the succeeding generations continued to play an active role in the bank.
The shares of the Julius Baer Group are currently listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange and form part of the Swiss market index of the 20 largest and most liquid Swiss stocks. Through the years, the bank continued to aggressively expand its scope and operations. Among its notable move was the acquisition of Merrill Lynch’s International Wealth Management business (IWM) based outside the US with around USD 84 billion of assets under management as of June 2012. The acquisition was a huge step in its growth strategy and has considerably strengthened its position in global private banking.
Leung says their strength in Asia lies in their point-blank focus. “We call this pure play focus, which means you don’t get distracted, and there is no conflict of interest, because as a banker, you don’t have to worry about pushing any other products, unlike in investment banking.” He adds Julius Baer is also known for its “open-architecture platform,” where they try to fit the perfect solutions for the client.
As deputy region head for Asia Pacific, Leung says the countries that they cover include Hong Kong, Philippines, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore. He says the ever-increasing power of Asia among global economies also means these are exciting times for them. He is quite optimistic on the region’s continued growth, as he describes it as a “young and growing region.” In the Philippines, Leung says they are closely tuned in to IT developments and the country’s dominance as the leader in business process outsourcing (BPOs) in the world.
But along with this newfound wealth among Asians, also lies new challenges for them as private bankers too. “We need to have the right people who are dedicated and with the same mindset,” he points out. It is also important to stay close to their clients not just with their families, but in the industries they are into.
Leung observes that there are a lot of successful first-generation entrepreneurs in Asia. From a secular point of view, he says this means Asia is still a young market, as compared to older and more established ones such as Europe. In particular, he cites his own company as an example. “For Julius Baer, it is now the fourth-generation that runs the company.” He says the success of the first-generation Asian entrepreneurs have also triggered a new generation of wealthy heirs. “We are at the stage where the first-generation is ready to pass on the reins to the second generation. For us private bankers, this means being there to help the 2nd generation in the transition process, and hopefully to help them take their inherited businesses to the next level.”
Leung says this also means private bankers like him must increasingly become more mobile and immerse themselves more in the various Asian cultures, traditions and mindsets, even as they retain a global outlook in order to remain competitive. Leung admits there is certainly more pressure for people like him to try to understand their clients’ needs and wants, down to the minutest detail. Still, he says, he is exactly where he wants to be. “It’s in my blood being a banker. I don’t mind traveling weekly to service our clients.” He also remembers what one of his clients from Singapore recently told him regarding one of the bankers under him. He says his client was quite happy, as he told him “your banker actually knows me so well and cares so much about me.” It is but a simple statement, he says, but in the world of private banking, that statement embodies everything that they aspire to be.