SHANGHAI - The explosive growth in China's affluent population, riding on the nation's boom, has led the nascent private banking sector to become a red-hot battlefield for foreign banks.
EFG Bank, a private banking arm operating in Asia under Zurich-based EFG International, is the latest overseas lender to move into the nation, establishing a Shanghai representative office last month to test the waters in the Chinese market.
Clement Lin, EFG Bank's chief representative in Shanghai, said that as its new office is unable to undertake wealth management business at the moment, the lender will "take this opportunity in China to do market research, to identify the particular needs of its rich people and to promote our branding".
EFG's move was made just a few weeks after Citigroup, which enhanced its range of products for high net-worth individuals in China.
According to a report from Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, China has 477,000 individuals with investable assets of at least $1 million.
If property investments are included in the net worth, the number could be in the range of 2 to 3 million people, said Anand Selva, head of consumer banking at Citi China.
"Wealth creation in China has been spurred by the unprecedented economic growth in recent years, and demand for wealth management services among China's wealthy is increasing," said Richard Leung, head of Wealth Management for UBS Securities in China.
But Citi's Selva noted that "the development of the private banking segment in China is still at an early stage, both in terms of customer sophistication and market readiness".
"The concept of wealth management is little understood although we expect it to develop as the country opens up, financial markets develop, and regulations ease," said Leung from UBS.
Compared with their counterparts in the United States, foreign banks feel that the investment style of China's wealthy is more aggressive.
"Many have accumulated wealth over a relatively short period and continue to demand aggressive investment returns," Leung said.
Currently, mainland clients are mainly focused on stock brokerage, mutual funds and deposit services, but as the market develops, their needs will become increasingly demanding and sophisticated.
"Knowing the exact needs of clients is the key to making our business long-lasting," said Albert Chiu, chief executive of EFG Bank in the Asia-Pacific region.