March 12, 2015 / 5:18 AM / 4 years ago

New Credit Suisse boss faces stiff challenge in Asia

HONG KONG/LONDON (Reuters) - Incoming Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam is expected to focus on private banking in Asia while aggressively cutting jobs at its investment bank, as he aims to repeat the success in the region of his old employer, Prudential.

Credit Suisse outgoing Chief Executive Brady Dougan (R) and Tidjane Thiam shake hands after a Credit Suisse news conference in Zurich, March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Thiam could slash 3,000 jobs from Credit Suisse’s investment bank, or 15 percent of staff globally, and cut 150 billion Swiss francs ($149 billion) of assets from the bank’s fixed income, commodities and currencies business as part of that shift, analysts at JPMorgan said.

That may include Asia, where the former insurance executive will find a fiercely competitive landscape, dominated by cross-town rival UBS in the wealth management space and increasingly crowded with aggressive local players in investment banking.

“Prudential’s markets in Asia have been green-field, high-growth and not over-competitive,” said Keith Pogson, senior partner for Asia-Pacific financial services at consulting firm EY.

“But in the banking system low-cost local players are becoming stronger and stronger competitors. It’s a very different landscape.”

Thiam takes over after current CEO Brady Dougan leaves in June.

UBS - which shifted its focus to the region earlier - has nearly twice the assets under managements in Asia, though Credit Suisse is starting to make significant strides there.

Last year, Asia Pacific accounted for 63 percent of all net new wealth Credit Suisse attracted, bringing total wealth management assets managed in the region to 143.5 billion Swiss francs, confirming Asia as a main driver of growth.

By contrast, UBS’s wealth management division had 269 billion Swiss francs of invested assets in the region at the end of 2014.

“Asia as a subsegment, it’s been a very important area of growth for Credit Suisse. Even though margins tend to be lower, from a growth point of view, it’s still highly attractive,” said Jon Peace, a banking analyst at Nomura in London.

Credit Suisse’s investment banking division in Asia Pacific, is also lagging UBS, according to Thomson Reuters data. In advisory rankings Credit Suisse has fallen every year since 2010, from 4th place then to 15th last year and 17th in the year to date.

In equity capital markets rankings, where Swiss rival UBS has consistently been the top-ranked player in Asia since 2010, Credit Suisse ranked 6th in 2014 and 4th in 2013, the data show.

And in debt underwriting, Credit Suisse again ranked outside the top 10 advisors every year since 2010.

Thiam, who contrary to Dougan has no experience of investment banking, may be sufficiently detached from the business to make some tough choices, bankers say.

“Asia has been a fairly difficult area for European investment banks to make money. The investment bank is the main question over the new CEO strategy,” said Simon Adamson, European banking analyst at CreditSights.

“If they do decide to scale back, that would also include their Asia business.”

($1 = 1.0044 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Lisa Jucca and Lawrence White in Hong Kong and Steve Slater in London; Editing by Louise Heavens, Greg Mahlich and Rachel Armstrong

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