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What next for Credit Suisse in Singapore?

Credit Suisse’s South-East Asia business is regarded as the jewel in the crown of its APAC franchise and in recent years that has been down to Helman Sitohang. 

Sitohang was appointed CEO of the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region back in 2014 when Tidjane Thiam restructured the group and remodelled APAC as a standalone business. Sitohang had strong relationships with high net worth individuals across the region and particularly in his native Indonesia, where he built a formidable business.

As the ‘Switzerland of Asia’, Singapore played to Credit Suisse’s strengths as a leading private bank and wealth management with a strong investment banking business.  As a standalone entity, its corporate financiers enjoyed a degree of independence from the firm’s investment banking and capital markets business, which was run out of New York. One of the advantage of APAC’s status as an independent business was that Sitohang looked after his bankers and headhunters said that some managing directors in APAC earned fixed pay of more than $1m. “They have always paid incredibly well and it's hard to get bankers out of there,” said one Singapore-based headhunter.

But that is changing.  APAC is no longer stand-alone, and other elements of the integrated business are being dismantled. The bank’s financing business, which was such as a strong force in South East Asia, has been integrated back into Credit Suisse group, while its corporate finance businesses will be part of the planned carve-out of First Boston being overseen by Michael Klein. “There’s a lot of nervousness in Asia,” said one Credit Suisse banker. “Credit Suisse has taken a lot of outside money, and Klein hasn’t talked much about where APAC sits in this.”

Credit Suisse’s team is also starting to splinter, just as it has in the US and Europe, where bankers have left through a combination of job cuts and offers from rivals as the bank has endured the worst period in its history due to scandals and losses.  Sitohang was replaced as CEO last year and although he remains as a senior adviser, sources in Singapore say he could soon be leaving the bank. Chien Chien Wong, CEO of Credit Suisse in Singapore, has resigned, and the bank has lost executives from its Singapore-based wealth management team.

There’s no doubt the bank faces an uncertain period as Klein works out the size and composition of First Boston’s offering in APAC.  But history proves that it’s hard to kill a franchise overnight, and rivals may be disappointed if they are betting on a capitulation.  Despite all the upheaval, Credit Suisse was regained top spot in the investment banking fee rankings for South-East Asia in 2022, according to Dealogic. One former banker says: “Their real strength has always been in South East Asia. There’s a real question of whether Klein really want to do business in Korea and Vietnam and other smaller markets, but Singapore will remain strong for the group as a whole.” But when Sitohang leaves, Credit Suisse will lose a crucial ingredient of its recent success in the region.

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AUTHORDavid Rothnie Insider Comment

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