Morgan Stanley in big Asia wealth management push

Morgan Stanley in big Asia wealth management push

Hong Kong: Morgan Stanley is making the growth of its wealth management business a priority in Asia, its top ranking official in the region said, as the US bank prepares to take on industry leaders such as UBS AG.

Morgan Stanley, which has consistently topped Asian M&A league tables, had aggressively hired advisers for its wealth management business this year, said Morgan Stanley’s Asia chief executive Owen Thomas told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

“If you look at wealth creation in Asia, it is very significant," Thomas said from his office in Hong Kong. “With an increasing number of the affluent individuals all over Asia, it is clearly an increasing battleground. I don’t think we are the only firm that’s focused on this."

Morgan Stanley’s wealth management expansion in Asia is part of the firm’s larger plan to expand retail operations. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney became the largest US retail brokerage after its creation last year.

Morgan Stanley plans to double its Asia head count in wealth management over the next three years, including 100 advisers this year, largely focussing on the top end of the market.

Thomas, who has helmed Morgan Stanley in Asia since 2008, enjoys a panoramic view of Hong Kong Island from his spacious office on the 46th floor of International Commerce Centre, the city’s tallest building.

“We want to grow. We want to build new products. And we want to add new advisors and we have been adding advisers fairly aggressively this year. We are also building out our infrastructure. In general we want to grow the business," said Thomas, a 23-year Morgan Stanley veteran."

Global private banks are increasingly turning their eyes to Asia, where -- with the exclusion of Japan -- wealth is expected to grow at nearly twice the global rate, according to Boston Consulting Group.

Morgan Stanley launched its private wealth business in India in 2008 and through the Smith Barney venture now has a private banking business in Australia. Private banks in Singapore and Hong Kong, the region’s most prominent financial centres, already manage $700 billion.

While Switzerland remains the world’s biggest wealth management centre with $2 trillion in offshore managed wealth, the centre came under pressure from an erosion of traditional bank secrecy and a bitter US tax fraud investigation into Swiss bank giant UBS AG.

The combined wealth of Asian millionaires surged 31 percent to $9.7 trillion, surpassing Europe’s $9.5 trillion in 2009, according to a Merrill Lynch Capgemini world wealth report.