Barclays Plc. is on the prowl for deals that will expand its business catering to Asia’s wealthy six years after largely retreating from the space.
The British lender is looking to buy assets and hire bankers to the super-rich, with a focus on Asia and Africa, Jean-Christophe Gerard, the Geneva-based chief executive of Barclays Private Bank said in an interview. The French national is fresh off a February deal in which Credit Suisse Group AG agreed to refer its private banking clients to Barclays across nine African markets.
“I’ve seen a lot of opportunities to buy globally, and it’s not just in Asia,” he said last week during a visit to Singapore, where the bank re-established a team serving super-rich clients just over a year ago. The industry is still “consolidating,” he said. Like the Credit Suisse agreement, “we can probably do others.”
Barclays’ ambition comes amid global market turmoil that has cut revenues and assets for wealth managers. Slowing economic growth, surging inflation as well as lockdowns in China have hit companies from UBS Group AG to Julius Baer Group Ltd. this year. That isn’t deterring Barclays, which is taking aim at the wealth creation trend in Asia that it sees as intact this decade and into the next, Gerard said.
“We are seeing a lot of capital flows, with family offices being set up here in Singapore,” from locations including China, Europe and India, said Evonne Tan, who was hired from UBS last year to rebuild the private bank in Singapore. “We’ve seen clients looking for opportunities to go into China during the down market.”
Customers in Singapore are also keen to invest in private equity deals and those linked to climate change and sustainability, she said in the same interview, adding the bank will continue to hire selectively.
Tan’s team is hoping to ride on Singapore’s popularity as a choice location for the rich to set up entities managing their family wealth. About 700 single family offices have a presence there as at end-2021, a near-doubling from the year before.
The revived ambition under Barclays’ new Chief Executive Officer C.S. Venkatakrishnan marks the bank’s return to managing wealth in some of the world’s fastest growing economies after the 2016 restructuring. At that time, it sold its private banking business in Singapore and Hong Kong to Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp., as the lender wanted to focus on keeping core operations and selling under-performing units.
Barclays’ assets under management in Singapore and Hong Kong were about $18 billion, with more than 80 relationship managers, when the sale to OCBC was announced.
Asked whether Barclays will also return to private banking in Hong Kong, Gerard said: “We are looking at opportunities everywhere in Asia, but our current focus is in Singapore.”
Assets under management at Barclays’ private bank have been growing at a double-digit rate in the past five years, according to Gerard, who declined to give specific numbers for AUM and global headcount. The private bank, where clients can only open accounts with a minimum of 5 million pounds ($6.1 million), also operates in places like Ireland, Switzerland, Monaco, Dubai, and India.