Cash is always king and no more so than in China. Traditionally a very cash-based market with many High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) skeptical of having someone else manage their money, wealth management got off to a slow start in China. It started with
the establishment of few foreign private banking such as Citi Bank, UBS, and HSBC in China in 2006. In 2007, Bank of China was the first Chinese bank that established a private banking department in Beijing and Shanghai.
Business was slow initially for both foreign and domestic banks. Trust was a key factor – many HNWIs were not comfortable with someone else managing their money, much less a foreign bank, but the sophistication of services offered was also very low. Even
today, the private banking business mainly provides consulting services for asset allocation and very little forward planning. Most banks push particular products rather than tailored financial plans that take into account not just a person or family’s financial
situation, but their future life events.
Although wealth management is still in a nascent stage, the HNWI population in China has increased dramatically, reaching 700,000 by the end of 2012. In addition, the total AUM in Chinese private banks was 573.6 billion yuan in 2008, but is over 2 trillion
yuan today. With this growing trend, we see the huge potential in the wealth management sector in the near future.
China’s large banks also see this opportunity and are focusing more and more on wealth management. The wealth management business not only brings significant intermediate business income, but also provides an opportunity for organisations to re-structure
their retail banking business. This has become especially important as it appears that regulators are finally going to reform interest rates. More flexible interest rates will mean that banks will face increased competition and be able to rely less and less
on traditional spread income – this is where higher margin wealth management products and services can help.
Nevertheless, Chinese banks still need a long time to build trust with their customers. In western countries, many private banks already have more than a hundred years of history. Will Chinese banks accomplish the same in less than 90 years?