Standard Chartered plans to hire about 400 people in its retail banking and wealth management businesses in Hong Kong this year and transform its branch network as it seeks to tap greater demand from affluent customers for wealth planning.
The bank, one of three currency-issuing lenders in the city, plans to invest HK$200 million (US$26 million) over the next three years to reshape its 70 branches in the city, according to Lay Choo Ong, Standard Chartered’s head of consumer, private and business banking in Hong Kong. That is on top of about HK$1 billion the lender has already spent on expanding its digital capabilities in Hong Kong.
“We believe that the future is not about digital-only, is not about branch-only, but really about digital with a human touch,” Ong said. “We certainly do not think it’s about reducing the number of branches. It is much more about what you do with the space in the future.”
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The bank said earlier this year it may relocate some branches, add new locations and close others as part of its revamp, but it would keep the total number of branches in the city the same at about 70.
One example of how the lender is reshaping its network is its Priority Private Centre, which opened in January at K11 Atelier Victoria Dockside in Tsim Sha Tsui and serves clients with HK$8 million or more in assets under management. The more than 8,800-square foot space overlooks Victoria Harbour and features treats from Artisan Lounge, as well as private meeting rooms to discuss wealth management needs.
The branch is designed so Standard Chartered can host events, from wine tastings to investor education seminars. It also has an individual teller booth, tucked off one of its conference rooms for clients who need more privacy.
It is the bank’s second globally, after a similar centre in Singapore. Standard Chartered is targeting opening another Priority Private Centre in Hong Kong later this year.
The redesign of Standard Chartered’s branches comes as clients are using less cash – cash transactions are down about 30 per cent in its branches in Hong Kong – and seeking more wealth management solutions, Ong said.
“There is demand for meeting with people to discuss more complex financial needs,” she said.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Standard Chartered saw its client assets under management in Hong Kong increase by double digits on a year-on-year basis in the first quarter and fund flows in its wealth management increase in that period at a rate of twice its 2020 average, Ong said.
Standard Chartered is one of several lenders adding headcount and putting greater focus on wealth management in the city as they hope to tap rising incomes in the Greater Bay Area. The London-based lender is targeting tripling its income from the bay area – a planned economic hub spanning Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland Chinese cities – in five years.
Citigroup plans to hire up to 1,700 people across its businesses in Hong Kong, including 300 relationship managers in its wealth management operations in the city. The American bank is exiting its consumer banking business in 13 international markets where it lacks scale, focusing on “wealth centres” in Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
In February, HSBC said it plans to invest US$3.5 billion and hire more than 5,000 people in its wealth management business in Asia over the next five years as it targets high net worth and ultra high net worth clients.
Credit Suisse, another rival, plans to triple its headcount in China over the next three years.
As part of its rethinking, Standard Chartered is also opening three “green” branches as part of a pilot project, probably in the third or fourth quarter, Ong said. The branches would be designed around conducting everything from account opening to everyday transactions on a paperless basis with digital support.
“There will be people there to assist,” Ong said. “Even with digital, there will be clients that require human assistance.”
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