Alvin Lee has a clear vision about the growth he wants to see for the private wealth business over which he presides at Maybank – but he is also willing to take his time in ensuring it is the right type of growth.
More than two-and-a-half years since the Malaysian banking group launched a formal offering for HNW and UHNW individuals, Lee believes things are well on the way to making the investment worth it.
For example, he counts roughly USD11 billion in AUM across three booking centres, including the unit’s hub in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong as a newer, smaller location.
This has come from a combination of onboarding some of the wealthier existing clients from the retail bank onto the private wealth platform, as well as attracting new clients to bring assets to the business.
Maybank has also implemented a new Avaloq platform to ensure it has the right IT systems and processes to deliver an enhanced suite of products and services to what was largely a retail-oriented business previously.
Now, the priority is scaling up in order to drive performance – and mainly at the front-line. But this doesn’t just mean hiring to bulk up the numbers at the expense of the strategy of longer-term sustainability that Lee is adamant about maintaining.
“We need to hire relationship managers (RMs), but they need to be the right people who also are a cultural fit for us,” he explains.
This comes down to how they view their careers and also the approach they take to advising clients. In line with this, Lee stresses the importance of the bank ensuring that its customers make money too.
To achieve this, he wants to bring in bankers who are focused on developing a long-term career in private wealth management – not simply look to push products.
While on one hand the timing for expansion might not seem ideal given the wider market environment, there will always be challenges and questions over the right time.
The Asian private banking industry, for example, is characterised by high costs – in terms of regulation and the general running of the business.
Indeed, this has been a factor over the past 12 to 24 months in many European private banks, in particular, reviewing the extent and scope of their operations in Asia.
“The private wealth industry has to be very careful not to let costs escalate to the point where they cannot sustain or provide the required level of service or solutions,” says Lee.
He is also aware of the need to be more creative in how and where he looks for new talent to bring on board.
And he sees a big opportunity to hire corporate and investment bankers into a private banking role.
“There is a lot of re-tooling and training needed to do this, but this shows that there are potentially other areas to tap.”
Perks of being fresh
Starting a private wealth proposition from scratch has also enabled Lee to benefit from the advantage of not having to deal with a lot of the legacy systems and processes which weigh down some of his peers.
He also applies this type of thinking to implementing his plans for aiming to do more digitally.
Yet it is still early days. So, for the time being, he says he is looking to leverage on the other parts of the Maybank group, such as the Kim Eng securities venture and the retail bank.
Ultimately, he wants to continue to focus for the time being on those client leads which are what Lee calls “warm”.
The conversion rate so far has been around 65%. In another two to three years’ time, he wants to have between 6,000 to 7,000 private wealth clients – the rationale being, that if each of them has, on average, between USD2 million and USD5 million with Maybank, then Lee can look to roughly USD20 billion in AUM. This is what he believes is the minimum critical mass to work with in today’s market.