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Barclays Reportedly Eyes Possible Disposal Of Asian Wealth Arm

Tom Burroughes

9 November 2015

There is media speculation in Australia that may dispose of its Asia wealth management business, a move that would put it in the same position as some other European banks that have scaled back in the region.

Several news channels in Australia, such as the Australian Financial Review, said the UK-listed bank, which earlier this year sold its US private bank to Stifel Financial Corp, may turn its attention eastward to cutting its operations in Asia.

While several parties have expressed interest in the business, the bank hasn't taken a final decision on a sale, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. Barclays has declined to comment.

Barclays has offered wealth management services in Asia since the early 1970s, with offices in cities ranging from Hong Kong to New Delhi and Singapore.

Such speculation comes at a time when a number of banks headquartered in the West have, despite the oft-touted promise of Asia, cut back operations there, in some cases due to lack of sufficient scale in specific markets to justify the costs. UBS has spun off its Australian wealth arm via a management buyout; Societe Generale has sold its Singapore-headquartered private bank to DBS; Royal Bank of Scotland sold its non-UK private bank, operating under the Coutts brand, with operations in Asia and Switzerland sold to Union Bancaire Privée, the Geneva bank. Banque Internationale Luxembourg has moved to close its Singapore office as part of a strategic re-focus on other regions.

The past few years have seen banks consolidating booking centres, getting out of markets where they feel they have not achieved sufficient scale, or because of regulatory issues. However, with some banks, Asia has been an area of intensifying focus: HSBC has made Asia one of its regional priorities, as has, for example, Switzerland's Julius Baer.