|Edmund Koh joined UBS Singapore in February this year as UBS Singapore Country Head and CEO Wealth Management Singapore and APAC Hub (UBS Wealth Management onshore operations in Australia, China, Japan and Taiwan). Here he shares his views on wealth management in Asia, his outlook for UBS Wealth Management in Singapore, and the important lessons he has learnt during his two decades of experience in financial services across Asia.
Edmund Koh Kian Chew was appointed UBS Singapore Country Head and CEO Wealth Management Singapore and APAC Hub in February 2012. He has over two decades of experience in the financial industry, including positions at HSBC and Citigroup in his earlier career, and more recently as Managing Director and Regional Head, Consumer Banking Group at DBS Bank (2001 – 2008) and President and Director at Ta Chong Bank, Taiwan (2008 – 2011). He has a BSc in Psychology from the University of Toronto, Canada and is married with three children.
What are your views on the private banking industry, specifically the outlook for wealth management in Asia?
There is tremendous wealth and affluence in Asia Pacific. We’ve seen significant growth in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand. While all the ASEAN markets are growing, I see tremendous opportunities in Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia, which are all really interesting markets for investors to pay attention to.
With expected wealth creation at an annual rate of 12.6% (excluding Japan), I believe Asia Pacific is still the most exciting wealth management market in the world. Basically, if you want to be a serious player, you need to be here. UBS is well placed to cater to this demand, with 18 offices in over seven countries serving more than half of the region’s billionaires. This is what makes UBS the preferred bank in the region, and both UBS Wealth Management and the UBS Group are extremely committed to Asia Pacific.
Where do you see the biggest industry trends and how is UBS positioned to manage this?
In the post-Lehman environment, the industry has seen some significant regulatory changes. In Singapore, the regulatory authorities are introducing a more sophisticated advisory environment, setting clear guidelines and pushing banks to better know their customers. Most importantly, banks need to understand the suitability of their products in accordance with their client’s investment appetite.
At UBS, understanding our clients and their individual investment needs is of paramount importance. Our priority is to help our clients preserve their wealth and achieve their investment goals. Clients expect a rapid investment process and an active advisory approach. Strong research capacity to analyze global, regional and local events is essential. To help realize this, in 2011 UBS established a Chief Investment Office Research team to deliver independent research-based advice, bringing together expert opinions from UBS professionals around the world on current issues so that risks and specific investment opportunities can be identified and discussed with clients as soon as possible.
We provide the skills and experience, enabling clients to concentrate on making suitable decisions for their portfolio. To help our clients make the most of their assets we research, set scenarios, plan strategies, review for consistency and risk control, and formulate a final strategy based on analysis and assessments.
While maintaining a global investment network, UBS offers deep access to local markets. Singapore and Hong Kong are UBS’s key international booking centers in Asia, and we have found that many clients want an Asian-based account. This puts clients in the same time zone as the region’s investment opportunities.
We understand that our clients need UBS to react to markets immediately. I believe that our team of dedicated and experienced bankers, our front to back operations, strong product structure and global reach will provide the platform to meet this need.
What was your perception of UBS before and since joining the firm?
I wanted to make the right decision for my family, UBS clients and stakeholders, so I did my due diligence. I read annual reports and spoke to people at UBS headquarters in Zurich, head-hunters, UBS customers and competitors alike.
One thing that I spent a lot of time looking at was the culture of UBS. I discovered that the firm has a very international, cosmopolitan culture and its people showed integrity and high intellect. We could have a good, strong debate on a contentious issue, yet remain collegial. Having previously worked at four banks over the course of my career, the culture here at UBS is one that I have the utmost respect for.
What will be your prime focus in your first 12 to 18 months at UBS?
I want to look at and build on the business strategy set by my predecessors. From there, I will look at the sub-strategies: Sales, Credit, Operations, IT, HR, and Communications. A critical component of the business strategy is: what is our value proposition?
I believe that we answer this by further enhancing our brand promise to our clients, our shareholders and equally our staff. This vision will build on what we do, and do well. The Wealth Management arena is a highly competitive environment and we must continue to deliver only the best in both our client advisors and our product offering.
What are some of the most valuable pieces of advice you have learnt in your career?
Always be hungry and keep an inquisitive mind. Read vicariously. I believe you should walk the talk on things you believe in, but never be afraid to ask for help. Never think that you know everything about banking: the economic cycles are getting shorter and your room to plan is getting shorter too. Keep an eye on evolving trends and plan ahead in what you do.
To managers, I would say: always hire your weakness, never your strength. People should hire someone who complements you and your team, not someone who replicates it.
I also believe completely in the need for quality and this is in line with the culture at UBS: unless we have the best client advisors, products and solutions, we should never, ever offer them to our clients. This is what allows us to walk with pride.