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UBS bucks trend by keeping US$2 million threshold for rich clients

[HONG kONG] UBS Group AG has no plans to follow other banks and raise the US$2 million threshold for access to its private banking services, the Swiss bank's China head of global wealth management said.

"This is not under discussion," said Marina Lui in an interview in Hong Kong, asked about moves by other banks to raise the minimums required from private clients. "We don't want to limit ourselves, a US$2 million dollar client can become a US$2 billion dollar client overnight."

Other wealth managers have raised their thresholds in recent years, as tighter regulation and higher compliance costs have pushed banks to focus on higher-value customers. Standard Chartered Plc and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp.'s Bank of Singapore have both announced plans to raise the minimum assets required from their private clients to US$5 million from US$2 million.

In justifying UBS's unchanged global policy, Lui cited the example of an unnamed Chinese client who three years ago was close to or even below the minimum US$2 million balance required to keep his account with the private bank. He was later catapulted into billionaire status when he listed his company in Hong Kong, Lui said, while declining to identify the client.

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Lui declined to provide specific figures, but said the rapid creation of wealth in China has helped UBS grow its management of offshore Chinese wealth twice as fast as the region as a whole. "Assets under management from China has grown four times since 2012, compared with about two times in the region," she said.

UBS is the largest wealth manager in Asia, with total assets under management of US$382 billion at the end of last year, according to Asia Private Banker.

While many of UBS's mainland clients are entrepreneurs who made their fortunes through deal making and risk taking, they often take a more conservative approach to investing their money offshore, Lui said. "What they want to do with wealth outside is very different. They are not looking for something that is very dramatic or high return, this is their rainy day money," she said.

Relationship Managers

UBS is finding it hard to find good candidates to add to its 180-strong team of relationship managers in Hong Kong catering to mainland Chinese clients, Lui said. After expanding rapidly from 50 people four years ago, the team is expected to grow by only about 5 per cent this year, she said. At the end of 2017, UBS had more than 1,000 relationship managers in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.

Despite the rapid growth in its offshore business, the real prize lies in managing money onshore as China gradually opens up the wealth management sector to foreign banks, Lui said. UBS hopes to work with the Chinese clients it serves in Hong Kong to manage more of their assets held in China, she added.

"These clients usually have 20 per cent of their wealth with us and the other 80 per cent is in China," she said. "This is a very big opportunity to capture."

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