Serious business

6 questions with Bank of Singapore’s Sermon Kwan

Sermon Kwan, Chief Executive of Bank of Singapore’s Hong Kong branch, on the rise of Asian private banking and the region’s strategic importance. Words by MARK TJHUNG

Bank of Singapore was founded in 2010, when OCBC bought and rebranded it from ING Asia Private Bank. What were the big challenges then?

Prior to 2010, the private banking industry was dominated by American and European banks. Banking with an Asian private bank was not popular then. The challenge was really to get our name, our credibility and our unique Asian proposition out to our target clients, and to make ourselves relevant to what they needed.

How did you go about brand building?

The concept of being self-made and having an entrepreneurial spirit are core themes of our brand. Many of our clients came from modest backgrounds, only becoming wealthy in the past three decades or so. As an Asia-based private bank we are able to relate well to our clients in the region.

How has the bank grown?

When Bank of Singapore was launched, just after the global financial crisis, we were managing US$22 billion. We’ve since grown our AUM (assets under management) to US$89 billion, as of the first half of 2017. Part of our growth has come as a result of our knowledge and understanding of the region.

Why should people consider an Asian private bank?

We’re a Singaporean bank, so the first message is we are safe: Singapore as a country is stable and economically very strong. And we have an AA1 credit ranking. I call this our DNA. After 2008, people realised that if something happened in Europe, it affected everyone in Europe. Our question is, have they ever considered an Asian bank? After the Asian financial crisis, the region has evolved and has become stronger.

How do you think China’s emergence will impact your business?

The rise of wealth in China presents huge opportunities for our business. First-generation Chinese entrepreneurs are now looking to grow and preserve their wealth, diversify their investments, plan for family and business successions and contribute to philanthropic and charitable foundations. Given our experience and dedicated teams in Hong Kong and Singapore, we are well placed to serve our clients’ needs.

We’re hearing a lot about fintech nowadays. What impact is that having on private banking?

The impact of fintech in private banking is less pronounced than it is on the retail side. This is because larger transactions generally necessitate personal conversations and contact. Many wealthy individuals want a human touch and are less comfortable using a machine.

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