Singapore set to be ‘Switzerland of Asia’: HSBC

Published 2011-02-23
The Business Times
By Conrad Tan

SINGAPORE is set to become the ‘Switzerland of Asia’, a major private banking centre that attracts wealth from across the Asia-Pacific, according to HSBC’s top executive in the region.

Singapore set to be 'Switzerland of Asia': HSBCPeter Wong, group managing director and Asia-Pacific chief executive, told BT that Singapore is increasingly attractive to rich people – even in mainland China – who are keen to invest overseas. Hong Kong, which enjoys many advantages due to its close proximity and deep business links with the mainland, is too close to home for some wealthy individuals, who want to diversify their investment exposure, he added.

‘Singapore is more independent – it’s not linked to any particular country – whereas Hong Kong is linked to China. Hong Kong is part of China, and it’s going to become more so in future, especially when the yuan becomes fully convertible.

‘There will be a physical border line but capital will move back and forth. So when mainland Chinese want to invest overseas, they’ll have to find something outside Hong Kong.’

Singapore is already a favourite investment destination for wealth from newly emerging countries in the Asia-Pacific such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, he added. ‘As far as that’s concerned, I think Singapore is more of a natural choice to invest than Hong Kong.

‘And Singapore has developed a brand name for wealth management, so I think it will attract money from north Asia, too. Hong Kong will have its own share of wealth coming from China. A lot of that goes into Hong Kong property and there are lots of mainland tourists going to Hong Kong, adding to retail spending.

‘Hong Kong is also a big services centre for China; people will go to Hong Kong for medical treatment, accounting services, and so on.’

Mr Wong, who is based in Hong Kong, was here to witness the opening of the bank’s new offices at the Mapletree Business City complex in Pasir Panjang.

The offices span 200,000 sq ft over six levels, and will house over 2,000 employees from various business and support divisions of the bank.

‘HSBC sees Singapore as a priority market and this expansion into Mapletree Business City is a statement of our commitment to Singapore, to our business here, and to our customers,’ said Mr Wong.

The group isn’t actively looking for new acquisitions in Asia, he added. Instead, it wants to focus on building up the operations it already has, and capturing a bigger market share in fast-growing business segments such as wealth management.

HSBC is expected to report its group financial results for 2010 next Monday.

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