June 16, 2016 / 6:05 AM / 3 years ago

Singapore OCBC's private bank unit exploring China onshore presence

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The private banking unit of Singapore’s second-biggest lender OCBC is exploring launching an onshore presence in China either with a domestic partner or on its own, its CEO told the Reuters Global Wealth Management Summit on Thursday.

OCBC's Bank of Singapore CEO Bahren Shaari is pictured during an interview at the Reuters Global Wealth Management Summit in Singapore, June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Raj Narwani

Regional and global banks have been cautious about setting up a local private banking and wealth management presence in China due to regulatory restrictions and the nation’s relatively less developed capital market. But as the world’s second-biggest economy continues to open up, the banks are reassessing their plans.

Earlier this week, Standard Chartered PLC said at the Summit it will consider next year whether it should start an onshore private bank in China.

“We are looking to explore partnerships, joint ventures or any other mode in which we can bring our offshore expertise … to an onshore setup that already has a good client base,” said Bahren Shaari, CEO of Bank of Singapore.

“Whether we will set up our own Bank of Singapore entity is also something we are exploring,” he said. The CEO did not give a timeline for the plan.

OCBC already has an onshore presence in China with branches in major Chinese cities, while its subsidiary Wing Hang China has a strong presence in the Pearl river delta region in Guangdong province.

China’s growing population of millionaires and billionaires is a big draw for private banks despite obstacles such as a restricted currency regime and limited availability of financial products.

An onshore presence for Bank of Singapore in China would mean it would be competing against Goldman Sachs and UBS on advising wealthy clients in the local market.

Bank of Singapore agreed in April to buy Barclays’ wealth business in Singapore and Hong Kong in a deal that will push the wealth manager just behind bigger rival DBS Group Holdings, ranked by an industry survey as Asia’s sixth-biggest private bank.

Shaari said he expects the integration to be completed by the end of the year and the majority of Barclays’ 88 private bankers to move to Bank of Singapore.

The bank expects to manage $70 billion to $75 billion in assets, he said, a rise of more than 30 percent compared to the period before the Barclays deal was announced.

Additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee in HONG KONG and Paige Lim in SINGAPORE; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

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