Citi Private Bank Asia Pacific Head: “Here’s what’s made me loyal to my bank since 1991”

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When Steven Lo first joined Citi in 1991 he didn’t expect to still be with the bank 27 years later. “I thought it would be a long-term move, but perhaps not quite this long-term,” says Lo, who is now Region Head of Citi Private Bank for Asia Pacific. “However, I don’t look at my career as being stuck in one company, because I’ve had so many different opportunities across the world with Citi.”

Lo first joined Citi Private Bank as an Ultra-High Net Worth Banker in Vancouver before relocating to New York in 1995. “Citi has always supported global mobility. If you have the chance to work in a place as dynamic as New York, you should definitely take it as a young banker,” says Lo. “When I tell my career story to more junior colleagues at Citi, I use myself as an example of how you can grow your career within the bank and never get bored. I still feel very energetic and motivated today.”

The key to career longevity at Citi is to take on challenges outside of your comfort zone, says Lo. “For example, back in 2001, I was enjoying my role looking after the Mega Wealth Unit based in Hong Kong when I was offered, and accepted, a position heading up our Thai private banking operations. I moved to a more all-encompassing job in a smaller market and had to manage client relationships in the time of a crisis in the local economy, so the role challenged me in a variety of new ways.”

Lo became Global Market Manager for Hong Kong after returning to the city in 2010. He was appointed to his current role in February of this year and says recruitment is now a high priority as he takes on the new challenge of leading the Private Bank in Asia.

“Citi Private Bank has been comparatively cautious with hiring and we currently have a cost-to-income ratio of under 60% in Asia, which is excellent,” he explains. “We’re strong financially and have the ability to expand more aggressively.”

Citi Private Bank has over 200 front office employees in Asia, split 60/40 between Hong Kong, its North Asia hub, and Singapore, which serves clients across South Asia.

Under an expanded Global Market Manager structure, bankers in Singapore now report to the heads or Global Market Managers of the individual markets in the South Asia region, instead of ASEAN and Australia/New Zealand managers as they did previously. The private bank also appointed a North Asia and a South Asia Head for the business after Lo assumed his current role.

“Our hiring focus in Singapore going forward is on growing our coverage in each market,” explains Lo. “We want bankers who have strong connections and experience in a particular country and can help us drill down even deeper there and win more business.”

In Hong Kong, where Lo himself is based, Citi is mainly recruiting bankers to serve mainland China. “Our China team is already large and successful, but the market is growing so rapidly and the opportunities in China are so exciting that we now want to add more headcount,” says Lo. “I never hesitate to hire when I meet strong China bankers.”

Regardless of which market they cover, Lo says he likes to ask bankers about their “aspirations” at Citi when he interviews them. “I don’t want them to boast about their own client list. I like to hear about how they will adapt to Citi and leverage our platform to help clients achieve their goals,” says Lo. “You can’t come here and work as a lone wolf. You have to show you can communicate well and want to collaborate with colleagues across different parts of the bank.”

Citi’s vast platform is one of the main reasons why private bankers in Asia are attracted to Citi, says Lo. “All private banks offer plain-vanilla products like loans, but can they help your clients buy real estate in New Zealand? We have people within our bank who can do that or who can help with a private equity deal, for example. We give you access to capital markets, M&A advice, equity, fixed income, rates – all of Citi’s products across its wider institutional business.”

Bankers are also drawn to Citi because of its global reach. “Clients in Asia, especially the younger generation, are increasingly investing internationally. And bankers interviewing with us frequently say they like the fact we do business across the world,” says Lo. “Our strong US connections are particularly important. We can open doors for clients to invest in the US and we can even help their families move from Shanghai to San Francisco, for example.”

Being a large global firm also gives Citi an edge when developing innovative new technology that automates routine tasks for clients and bankers, allowing them to have in-depth discussions around more complex investment issues.

“As second and third generations assume control of family businesses in Asia, they’re demanding more digital-banking services,” says Lo. “We’re taking advantage of our large technology team and huge consumer platform to design new online services. Smaller private banks would find it harder to make sizable investments in technology.”

Citi may be global, but it’s also firmly rooted in Asia. “There’s been a lot of consolidation in Asian private banking in recent years and several banks haven’t survived,” says Lo. “By contrast, we’ve been here since 1902 and also have strong corporate and investment banking operations in the region. We’re very committed to growing in Asia.”