THE PRIVATE BANKING arm of UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc. saw a climb in its assets under management (AUM) in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic.

UnionBank Senior Vice-President and Private Banking Group Head Arlene Joan T. Agustin said in a briefing that its private bank, which was set up in partnership with Lombard Odier & Co., saw its AUMs grow to about P40 billion at end-2020.

“In terms of AUM, for 2019, when we first started, our AUM levels back then was slightly below the P20-billion mark. But after 2020, it has grown to about P40 billion, and for 2021 we would like to bring that up further by at least 25%,” Ms. Agustin said on Thursday.

Clients may join UnionBank’s private banking unit once they have at least P10 million in their accounts, she said.

“It’s very personal, we do approach people but a lot of the success is really from the clients who refer clients,” she said.

Ms. Agustin said the pandemic has affected the risk appetite of investors as well as their attitude towards digitalization.

“At the beginning of the crisis, our clients were a bit more cautious. Of course, it’s natural and a reaction. But now, they are beginning to take on a little bit more risks,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lombard Odier Chief Executive Officer for Asia Pacific and Head of Asia Private Banking Vincent Magnenat noted that the low interest rate environment seen in many markets is likely to remain as the pandemic continues. This, he said, will challenge the traditional way of investing.

“That means that if we want to maintain returns that we saw in the past, most probably we have to take in more risks. This low interest rate environment also shows the importance to invest globally in order to take the opportunities,” Mr. Magnenat said.

A study by the two firms involving ultra-high net worth individuals found that 87% of private banking clients believe digitalization will continue to be vital in their transactions in a post-pandemic world.

However, the findings also showed 59% are keen to go back to having physical meetings with their bankers and relationship managers as opposed to just e-mail exchanges, videos, and calls.

UnionBank’s private banking arm offers wealth management expertise that touches on aspects such as succession, estate planning, structuring, and philanthropy for affluent individuals and families. The Aboitiz-led bank’s strategic partnership with the Swiss bank was forged in 2016, with the private banking arm set up in 2019.

UnionBank’s net income slid 17.4% to P11.561 billion in 2020 from P14 billion a year earlier, as the bank increased its loan loss reserves amid the crisis.

Its shares closed at P73.80 apiece on Thursday, down by P1.05 or by 1.4% from its Wednesday finish. — L.W.T. Noble