For Credit Suisse, Asia is the place to be

Credit Suisse's Asia-Pacific business is proceeding at full speed, even as the bank takes a wait-and- see attitude towards Brexit and its eventual impact on its London and European operations.

Speaking to The Straits Times in an exclusive interview yesterday, the Swiss bank's global chief executive, Mr Tidjane Thiam, said Bri- tain's secession from the European Union (EU) will not have immediate implications for Credit Suisse and its staff, though it has created a lot of uncertainty that will take years to clear up.

"We don't know who is going to negotiate on behalf of Britain, because we don't know who will be leading the government - who will be prime minister. And we don't know when, and we don't know what the mandate will be. That's a lot of uncertainty. So at this point in time, to say anything too precise is impossible."

Still, the bank is in a good position to deal with the fallout of Brexit, Mr Thiam said, as it had been paring its operations in London as part of a restructuring that began last year.

"Don't forget we are originally a Swiss bank, so we are from outside the EU and we needed an operating platform in the EU and we have that in Dublin. So we are fundamentally in a reasonably good position to watch what's going to happen. Once things become clearer, we'll adjust."

Mr Thiam, 53, said it is too early to tell whether Brexit could have any silver lining for Asia, though he added that the bank strongly believes in the long-term growth potential of this region. This was evident when the bank unveiled its global restructuring plan last October, which included a big pivot towards Asia.

While the bank has been cutting costs and jobs in the United States, Britain and Switzerland, it has been pumping more capital and resources into this region.

Since the end of the first quarter of 2015, compared with the end of the first quarter this year, Credit Suisse has added 100 new relationship managers across the Asia-Pacific. The restructuring also included letting the Asia-Pacific stand as a business unit of its own, with powers to make decisions quickly and efficiently.

"Often, regional titles in many companies don't have real power," Mr Thiam said. Not so in the case of Credit Suisse's Asia-Pacific CEO Helman Sitohang.

While previously, he may have had to get approval from global business bosses before making big decisions, now he can execute them on his own.

That has really been a game- changer, Mr Thiam said, and the business model has worked so well that the bank wants to export it to its other geographical markets.

"Employees are very happy that they can now make decisions with people who can really understand the market they are operating in."

Mr Thiam said: "We are also investing to ensure we maintain the highest standards in our compliance and risk functions, to support our business ambition and meet our regulatory requirements."

Playing the technology card

Like any other big bank surveying the landscape, it has not escaped Credit Suisse that technology is becoming ever more important in finance.

The Swiss bank has been upping its tech game in recent years, though global chief executive officer Tidjane Thiam does not like revealing too much about what it has up its sleeve.

"We're very active but we don't want to make too much noise about it. It's sensitive and competitive," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

The bank revealed, however, that it has formed a "fintech (financial technology) innovation factory" named Credit Suisse Labs in Silicon Valley, whose CEO will be named soon.

This new appointee will work alongside Mr Sebastian Thrun, the senior adviser to the Credit Suisse Labs.

Mr Thrun previously led the development of Google's self-driving car.

And in March, Credit Suisse founded a joint venture with Silicon Valley's Palantir Technologies, called Signac, that aims to catch rogue employees.

The plan is to have Signac monitor staff behaviour at the bank and identify breaches of conduct rules. The venture aims to offer the service to other banks.

This article was first published on July 01, 2016.
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