Merrill Lynch hires new Asia wealth chief from UBS

Merrill Lynch hires new Asia wealth chief from UBS

Singapore: Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch hired Michael Benz from UBS as its new Asia-Pacific head of wealth management, underscoring aggressive competition for top bankers in the world’s hottest private banking market.

Benz, a Swiss citizen, will succeed Antony Hung who is retiring. He last headed UBS’s investment products and services unit in Asia-Pacific and will join the US bank in the first quarter of 2011.

Asia has become the battleground for private banks as global and Asian players expand to gain bigger market share in a region that is outpacing growth in the United States and Europe.

“The unprecedented rate of wealth creation in the Asia-Pacific Region means our wealth management business is of critical strategic importance to us," Brian Brille, president of Bank of America Merrill Lynch Asia Pacific, said in a statement.

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

Sallie Krawcheck, Bank of America’s president of global wealth and investment management, is keen to grow the Merrill Lynch operations outside the US as emerging economies generate the bulk of the world’s newly super-wealthy.

BofA’s Merrill Lynch global wealth management is a leading player globally with $1.4 trillion in client assets and 15,000 financial advisors. It does not give a breakdown of its Asian numbers.

More than two-third of its clients globally are those who have a net worth of $1 million or more, Merrill said, as it competes against the likes of UBS and Citigroup.

Benz, who moved to Hong Kong in 2003, has worked in investment banking, asset management and wealth management in Switzerland, Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong with UBS.