© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Standard Chartered logo at its headquarters is seen through a window with raindrops in Hong Kong

By Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Standard Chartered (LON:) PLC has seen the departure of at least four senior Asia-based bankers from its private banking unit in recent months, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said, amid growing earnings pressure at the business.

Among those who left the London-headquartered bank in the past six months include Teddy Kwong, managing director and market head for Hong Kong, and Peter Lam, managing director and team leader for Hong Kong, said the people.

Both Hong Kong-based Kwong and Lam joined StanChart in the first half of 2017 from the regional private banking unit of rival HSBC Holdings (LON:) PLC. It was not immediately clear where the two are headed.

Ray Li, StanChart private banking managing director and head of relationship management, has also left after having worked at the bank for more than a decade, said the people and according to his LinkedIn (NYSE:) profile.

The Asia, Africa and Middle East-focused bank has also lost India private banking head Sandeep Das, who joined Barclays (LON:) PLC last month as head of private clients India in private bank and overseas services, as per a Barclays announcement.

A StanChart spokeswoman in Singapore declined to comment on recent staff exits in Asia, but said that the bank continued to invest in and hire for its private banking business in 2019.

“Our Private Bank has completed two years of repositioning and is building a stronger wealth platform that complements the business,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Kwong, Lam, Li and Mumbai-based Das could not immediately be reached for comment. The people with direct knowledge of the matter were not authorized to speak with media and so declined to be identified.

StanChart’s private banking business unit provides services to wealthy individuals across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, through onshore booking centers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, India, London and Jersey.

The unit, however, has weighed on the group’s earnings in the last couple of years, as growing competitive intensity in Asia, which accounts for bulk of its revenue, and market volatility significantly impacted the assets it manages.

Loss before tax at the private banking business widened to $14 million last year, from a loss of $1 million in 2017, the bank’s annual report showed. Its assets under management also dropped 8 percent last year, from nearly $65 billion in 2017.

Chief Executive Bill Winters said at an earnings call last month that the private banking unit had added new relationship managers to serve its wealthy clients, and is investing more to “fundamentally transform” the business.

Two separate people told Reuters that StanChart was adding 15 private bankers in London in the March quarter, who would serve the bank’s clients in the Middle East. Some of them have already started in their new roles, one of the people said.

The number of people in the Middle East with individual assets of more than $500 million is projected to grow by 28 percent to 500 in 2022, according to the Knight Frank 2018 Wealth report.

StanChart is bulking up for a bigger share of the Middle East market at a time when others are also expanding to tap the growing client base that includes wealthy business people, family offices and non-resident Indians.

Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings Ltd, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, said in November it would almost double its Dubai private banking staff to triple revenue for those operations in the Middle East by 2023.

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