By Sumeet Chatterjee
HONG KONG (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings PLC plans to boost its Asia retail wealth management staff by about 300 by end of this year, with Europe's biggest lender by assets sharpening its focus on Singapore to add to its presence in core markets of Hong Kong and China.
London-headquartered HSBC, which makes more than 80% of its profit in Asia, will boost its wealth staff in Singapore by 50 and launch new digital offerings this year, said Kevin Martin, Asia Pacific head of retail banking and wealth management.
While HSBC did not disclose its wealth management headcount in Singapore at present, the bank's business of offering advice and investment products to affluent clients in the city-state is smaller compared to its presence in China and Hong Kong.
"It's fair to say that our entire business in Singapore underperformed, and we haven't hidden from that fact," Martin told Reuters in a recent interview, referring to the bank's retail banking and wealth management unit.
"As we build Asia wealth ... there is a really significant opportunity in Singapore, not just onshore Singapore, but offshore Singapore," he said, adding the bank expects the country to be a "growth engine" over the next few years.
HSBC's retail banking and wealth management division serves clients with less than $5 million (4 million pounds) of investable assets, while those with more than that threshold are taken up by the bank's private banking unit.
Chief Executive John Flint last year said building a leading wealth management business, mainly in Greater China and Southeast Asia, was key for accelerated revenue growth in Asia, where individual wealth is growing at the fastest pace globally.
Singapore's high net worth population, those with investable assets of $1 million or more, rose 11.5% in 2017, as per consultant Capgemini's latest wealth report, ahead of China's 11.2%, Japan's 9.4% and Australia's 9.2%.
Of respondents in a survey conducted by trade publication Asian Private Banker in July last year, 58% ranked Singapore as the most preferred offshore wealth management hub, followed by Hong Kong, Switzerland and London.
HSBC is looking to target both onshore as well as offshore clients, with a large number of rich individuals in China, India and other Southeast Asian nations looking for wealth management services in Singapore, Martin said.
In Singapore, HSBC will compete with global rivals such as Citigroup Inc and Standard Chartered PLC, as well as Southeast Asia's biggest lender DBS Group Holdings Ltd which has a strong presence in the mass-affluent wealth management business.
As part of its plans to grow its Asia wealth business, HSBC also intends to ramp up its insurance distribution and product offerings in Hong Kong, China and Singapore this year, Martin said.
HSBC's life insurance business within the wealth management unit posted 66% growth in revenue to $793 million in the first quarter of this year compared to the year-earlier period.
"We are not even partly done in terms of the upside for insurance ... And as we have increased distribution, provided all products and put digital capabilities in place and promoted the brand, the growth you see will continue."
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Christopher Cushing)