Credit Suisse Looks to Canada in Search for Wealthy Clients

Sep 04, 2014 11:51 am ET

(Updates with stock market performance in fifth paragraph, other private banks in 11th.)

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Credit Suisse Group AG added private banking to its operations in Toronto as the lender seeks to win business from Canada’s wealthiest individuals.

The bank has dedicated four advisers to target Canadians with at least $25 million of assets to invest, building off the company’s investment-banking operations in the country. The Zurich-based firm said it’s focusing on a niche group of affluent Canadians whose financial needs aren’t being met by domestic banks or foreign companies with private-wealth operations.

Credit Suisse is “bringing what we think is a much-needed perspective to a relatively small group of ultra high-net-worth Canadians who, given their situation, really require a global wealth-management solution,” Ronald Lloyd, the bank’s country head for Canada, said in an Aug. 29 phone interview.

The number of Canadian millionaires increased 7.2 percent last year, helping make North America the wealthiest region in the world, according to a June 18 report by consulting firm Cap Gemini SA and Royal Bank of Canada. Canadians with at least $1 million in investable assets climbed to 320,000 people, about 1 percent of the country’s population, with a collective wealth of $979 billion, according to the report.

Repatriating Assets

Growth has been helped by “robust performance” of Canada’s equity markets and real estate, according to the report. Canada’s benchmark Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index surged 15 percent this year, making it the second-best performer behind Denmark among developed equity markets.

Wealthy residents have been repatriating assets since the 2008 financial crisis as Canada was perceived as performing well during the downturn and because of tax changes in the U.S. and other foreign countries, Lloyd said.

“For the first time in my 25-year career, we’ve started seeing wealthy Canadians looking to bring their assets back to Canada,” Lloyd said. “That’s very significant.”

Credit Suisse has been revamping its money-losing U.S. unit under Philip Vasan, who was appointed in March 2013 to oversee private banking for the Americas. Chief Executive Officer Brady Dougan said in October the bank expected to bring the U.S. wealth management to profitability in the “not too distant future.”

U.S. Offices

“We actually have made great progress and we’re in many ways ahead of plans and expectations,” Richard Jaffe, Credit Suisse’s head of private banking for North America, said in a phone interview. “Things are going well in North America and the U.S., and the Canadian strategy fits very nicely into our strategic growth plan.”

Credit Suisse has 13 private-banking offices in the U.S. employing about 400 advisers, Jaffe said. New York is the largest with about 100 advisers, while other locations typically have 10 to 15 employees, he said.

Canada’s wealthy are served by domestic lenders such as Royal Bank, which has private-wealth operations nationwide, and foreign firms including Citigroup Inc., which has about 40 bankers and professionals in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver dedicated to ultra high-net-worth residents.

Credit Suisse will add more people in Canada as needed while maintaining profitability, Jaffe said.

“We’re starting with a small number of people and adding people as the business grows, as opposed to just building a business with lots and lots of people and hoping business comes,” he said.

--With assistance from Elena Logutenkova in Zurich.