by Gabriel Chen
WITH only a month left until Singapore's first Formula One race, some banks are pulling out all the stops to get their clients revved up for the big event.
Some are splashing out wads of cash to fly in top-tier customers from all over the world while others are hosting posh F1 cocktail parties at some top hotels.
- Credit Suisse. The Swiss bank is inviting about 900 global guests who are its clients to the race.
- Royal Bank of Scotland. Clients will be hosted to a cocktail party at the old Supreme Court building and get a chance to meet F1 legend Jackie Stewart.
- ING. A major sponsor of the Renault team, it is hosting some 1,000 wholesale and private banking customers.
In short, the inaugural F1 night race is shaping up to be a major marketing tool for a number of the banks here.
Three big sponsors - ING Group, Credit Suisse and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) - are not only giving the highly sought-after Paddock Club tickets to wealthy clients, but also letting them hobnob with the world's best F1 drivers.
While the three declined to say how much they are splurging on their clients, observers estimate each bank could chalk up millions during the race period.
Credit Suisse is inviting about 900 global guests who are its clients to the race which runs from Sept 26 to 28.
The Swiss bank did not want to disclose how many of its clients will be treated to exclusive Paddock Club tickets.
But what is known is that these tickets - which allow guests to get close-up views of the pit-lane action while feasting on champagne and caviar - do not come cheap, with prices ranging from $3,500 to $7,500 for a single seat.
As Credit Suisse is the official partner of the BMW Sauber team, its guests will get to meet the team's drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica at a dinner.
RBS, a key sponsor of the Williams team, will host its clients at a cocktail party at the old Supreme Court building.
ING, a major sponsor of the Renault team, also said it is hosting some 1,000 wholesale and private banking customers.
Meanwhile, other banks have entered the fray to create opportunities for guests to meet and socialise.
'One of our party nights is built around a hawker stall theme,' said Mr V. Shankar, group head of origination and client coverage at Standard Chartered Bank. 'Our clients can look forward to lots of good, authentic Singapore food, lots of laughs and definitely F1 celebrities.'
SG Private Banking has chartered a private yacht for clients to cruise to the Southern Islands. 'It will provide guests, especially those from overseas, the unique opportunity to view the much-talked-about developments along Singapore's waterfront,' said Mr Pierre Baer, SG Private Banking chief executive officer for Singapore and South Asia.
OCBC Bank is the only local bank to invite its clients to the Paddock Club. 'No detail is too small for us as we make transport arrangements for our customers to get to the OCBC Paddock Club without fuss,' said Ms Koh Ching Ching, head of group corporate communications.
Despite the glamour of being associated with the race, industry watchers say some private banks, including those belonging to Citigroup, JPMorgan and Merrill Lynch, have chosen to give the race a miss, or are taking a subdued approach.
Sources say many of them - saddled with credit-related losses and write- downs back home - would have thrown parties and sponsorships without hesitation when capital was plentiful.
But now they have to be realistic.
Citi, JPMorgan and Merrill all declined to comment. Those willing to go on record were either skittish on details or simply painted a mood of conservatism.
UBS Singapore's chief operating officer Teo Lay Sie said it has made arrangements for clients to attend race-related hospitality events and the race itself.
Mr Rolf Gerber, CEO of LGT Bank in Liechtenstein (Singapore), said the bank is sponsoring tickets for top clients - but they will make their own flight and hotel arrangements. 'We wanted to see how exciting, if at all, the F1 turns out to be before making a decision on perhaps a greater commitment for F1 next year,' he said.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on August 22, 2008.