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Banking

Singaporean private banking: Formula for excess

Singapore’s free-wheeling private bankers enjoyed the ride of their lives in the pre-crisis years, but with government intervention and a clutch of lawsuits looming, it looks as though many are finally running out of road. Eric Ellis reports.

DESPITE ITS GLITZY new image as the latest hotspot to host a night-time Formula One race around glamorous casinos, Singapore – the tropical island republic dubbed southeast Asia’s Monaco by private bankers – hides a post-global financial crisis secret. It’s a touchy subject at private banking heavyweight UBS, which at the market’s pre-meltdown peak ran 1,000 client relationship managers hawking all manner of exotic investments to regional tycoons in a heady atmosphere one former operative described as a "zoo" and a "boiler room". Perhaps that’s because UBS is still smarting from the loss of its ‘$30 billion man’, the former head of wealth management Tee Fong Seng, who walked – with some clients and team members – in June to Credit Suisse to join his former UBS Singapore colleague Marcel Kreis. Or maybe UBS is still embarrassed by the industry sniggers at its flamboyant executive director James Tulley, known to friends as ‘Tulley Tubby’, whose photo spread in Singapore Tatler last March boasting about his sartorial self-regard – his 30 pairs of spectacles and 100 pairs of shoes, including a $4,000 pair from Louis Vuitton – came to symbolize the excesses of the suddenly sexy private banking sector.

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