Credit Suisse: Thiam’s Asia dreams come true

News and opinion on finance

Credit Suisse looks like it has finally turned the corner after three years of restructuring by chief executive Tidjane Thiam. 

In April, the bank posted its strongest quarterly earnings in three years, with much of that boost driven by wealth management – particularly in Asia. 

Tidjane Thiam

The bank added SFr6.2 billion ($6.3 billion) of new assets in its Asia-Pacific business in the first quarter, the most in at least two years and accounting for more than 40% of new inflows at the bank. 

Of all the global wealth managers, Credit Suisse has always seemed to have the best offering in the Asia region; it just never seemed to be recognized for it because of its smaller size relative to UBS. 

Credit Suisse was early to move into countries such as Indonesia, for example, while its peers hung back in Singapore. In April, the bank announced it was opening in the Philippines, where few other have a presence, but where wealth is growing. 

It has also partnered with local firms to create innovative products, such as with UOB in impact investing – again differentiating itself from its counterparts. Peers have either plodded on with their US or European approaches to wealth management or have focused too intently on hiring rather than product. 

While Thiam may have frustrated onlookers with his slow turnaround towards wealth management and away from investment banking, the steady approach in Asia, which predates his arrival, has been worth it. 

Investment bankers

Credit Suisse has kept its focus on entrepreneurs in the region – leveraging the investment bank where it needs to. Indeed, some SFr4 billion of Asia inflows to the bank are through referrals from investment bankers. 

If it remains mindful about its growth plans, then the bank has everything to gain. 

The foundation is solid. Credit Suisse has little more than half the number of relationship managers (RMs) in Asia of UBS – and that’s a good thing. Poorly performing RMs have been shown the door. 

Thiam has indicated there is room for another 200 or so RMs in the region; if he continues with the steady hand he has demonstrated, avoiding the gung-ho hiring of his peers, then Credit Suisse could well get the recognition it deserves as the top wealth manager in Asia.

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