Credit Suisse CEO Thiam targets bigger China presence

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Credit Suisse Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam said on Tuesday the Swiss bank has been “underweight” in China and would look to build its wealth management capabilities in the world’s second-biggest economy, despite slowing growth.

Thiam told a media briefing on the sidelines of the annual Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong that he was not concerned by the slower economic growth in China. The CEO said he saw this as a natural development as the country transforms itself into a consumption-driven economy rather than one led by investment.

“We have been underweight (in) China and will continue to invest,” said Thiam, 53, who joined the Zurich-based bank in July 2015. The banker said he would be spending five days in China as part of his current Asia trip, meeting clients and seeking to develop his understanding of their needs.

Thiam’s focus on China comes at a time when Credit Suisse has made wealth management a key plank for its future growth. The bank is also shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific region, where it already has an important presence in Southeast Asia: Thiam aims to more than double Asia-Pacific pre-tax income to 2.1 billion Swiss francs ($2.19 billion) by 2018.

China’s blistering economic growth over the past decade has made it home to a million high-net-worth individuals, according to consultants Bain & Co, twice as many as in 2010. For foreign banks, Asia - and China in particular - has become the new battleground in developing wealth management business.

But making money onshore in China has proved a challenge for most foreign banks, hampered by the heavily protected nature of China’s financial services sector.

Credit Suisse currently lacks an onshore license to operate wealth management business in China, but is considering securing one.

“Our strategy is primarily driven by wealth management and private banking,” Thiam said. “We have a good customer base. Today we are offshore, but ultimately we will be onshore.”

Reporting by Denny Thomas and Lisa Jucca; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell