Citigroup has grown big in Asian private banking and wealth management by rigidly segmenting its customer base.
It offers its highest level of service only to those who put $10m or more with the bank, but thanks to heavy investment in technology it is now able to provide sophisticated financial products and advice at relatively low cost to customers whom traditional private banks would not have found profitable. A big selling point for banks with large international branch networks such as Citi and HSBC, and even regional powerhouses such as Standard Chartered, is their reach abroad.
Affluent clients want to be sure that they can quickly get help if they lose their wallets while travelling, say, or need to send money across borders. “Even a billionaire needs a credit card, he also needs online banking, he needs to be able to write a cheque,” says Jonathan Larsen, Citi’s head of consumer banking in Asia.
Yet the big network banks are also facing new competition from fast-growing domestic banks in emerging markets. Itaú Unibanco, Brazil’s biggest private bank, has built a business that is the envy of many international rivals, and is expanding fast across the region. In Asia, banks such as China Merchants Bank, Hang Seng Bank, OCBC and HDFC are bundling investment products with banking services for wealthy customers, says John Caparusso of Standard Chartered in Hong Kong.
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