Banks Compete for Asia's New Millionaires

Asia now has 3 million millionaires, 26 percent more than a year ago, according to Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Capgemini, a French consultancy. The region controls more wealth than Europe and is closing in rapidly on North America. Signs of opulence are hard to miss: one of India’s richest men built a 27-story skyscraper as his home, while Chinese millionaires spent $830 million on fine art in 2009. To court these high rollers’ $9.7 trillion in assets, international banks are beefing up their wealth-management divisions, which help the rich—especially the newly rich—research investments, avoid taxes, and weather economic cycles. In February, JPMorgan Chase moved the head of its international private bank, which caters to those worth more than $10 million, from New York to Hong Kong. Barclays Wealth teamed with two Japanese financial firms in July to bolster local ties, and Deutsche Bank circulated press releases boasting about 12 bankers it poached from rivals such as Credit Suisse and Citi. So far, says Tjun Tang, a Hong Kong–based partner of the Boston Consulting Group, the new generation favors keeping much of its assets in cash while also pursuing high-risk investments like real estate, infrastructure projects, and equities. The competition among bankers will only intensify: with the region’s strong growth, high savings, and relatively low exposure to risky investments, household wealth in Asia could grow at twice the global rate, says BCG’s Tang.

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