[SINGAPORE] Credit Suisse Group AG is targeting Thai millionaires as part of the firm's goal to bolster the new money it attracts from wealthy clients in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Swiss bank is adding a client-relationship team of six in Bangkok, a total expected to increase to 12 by the end of the year, said Francesco de Ferrari, Credit Suisse's head of Asia Pacific private banking.
Thailand's capital is now the sixth city in the region in which the firm will have an onshore wealth presence, he said, adding that the bank had previously handled its wealthy Thai customers from Singapore and other regional hubs.
The bank is being lured by the pool of wealth held by the nation's rich - estimated at US$456 billion in a 2015 report by Cap Gemini and RBC Wealth Management - as well as by central-bank moves since last year to ease restrictions on overseas investment. That included allowing Thai nationals to invest directly overseas and raising limits for foreign-exchange deposits at local banks.
"There is a potential in Thailand where we increasingly see ultra-high net worth entrepreneurs who diversified" their investments overseas, Mr de Ferrari, who has led Credit Suisse's Asia-Pacific wealth team since 2012, said in an interview on Monday. "We are very positive about it."
Led by chief executive officer Tidjane Thiam, Credit Suisse is seeking to double pretax income and client assets under management in the Asia Pacific by 2018. The Swiss lender has hired more relationship managers in the area, boosting its total to 630 as of March from 520 at the end of 2014.
Pretax profit of the wealth unit that Mr de Ferrari heads has more than doubled to 344 million Swiss francs (S$482 million) in 2015, from 155 million francs in 2012 when he started in his current role.
Client assets at the Asia-Pacific private-banking unit stood at 150 billion francs as of December, little changed from a year ago, but about a third higher from the 2012 level, data provided by the bank show. The firm was ranked by Asian Private Banker as the third-largest private bank by assets in the region last year.
Credit Suisse attracted net new assets of 17.8 billion Swiss francs in the Asia-Pacific region last year and the bank wants to boost that figure to 25 billion francs annually by 2018. In the region, Credit Suisse's wealth unit has operations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia and India. Its securities business has operated in Thailand since 2000.
UBS Group AG, the largest wealth manager in Asia, serves its wealthy Thai clients out of Singapore and other regional centers.
Mr de Ferrari said the number of wealthy people in Thailand is comparable to Singapore, where the total population is roughly 12 times smaller. Thailand's per capita gross domestic product was just under US$6,000 in 2014, according to the World Bank, more than half of Malaysia's US$11,307, and a fraction of US$56,284 in Singapore.
Some 340 individuals in Thailand have more than US$50 million in net wealth, classified as ultra-high net worth, Mr de Ferrari said, citing Credit Suisse data. According to the Cap Gemini and RBC report, another 91,000 or so have more than US$1 million in investable assets.
Other wealth managers who have beefed up their presence in Thailand include Lombard Odier, Geneva's oldest private bank, which partnered with Bangkok-based Kasikornbank Pcl in 2014 to offer private clients of the Thai bank access to global investment funds. Part of the agreement includes a referral of Thai clients to the Swiss firm when appropriate, according to a December 2014 press release.
Mr de Ferrari didn't rule out another acquisition for Credit Suisse, which bought HSBC Holdings Plc's wealth business in Japan in 2012. Prices and terms of that deal weren't disclosed. Client assets under management would be a consideration for any takeover, given the amount of net new assets the firm took in last year in the Asia Pacific.
"It would really have to be big for us to make sense," said Mr de Ferrari.