Larry Tomei pulls out his HSBC Premier credit card from his wallet, slides the plastic forward on the boardroom table, then leans in.

“Say I’m in London, I lose my money, and I’m stuck,” says Tomei, who joined Vancouver-based HSBC Bank Canada as executive vice president and head of retail banking and wealth management, in October. “I can walk into an HSBC branch, show them that card and have full access to my money in Canada. They know who I am; they know I’m a Premier client.”

For Tomei, the card symbolizes the firm’s global reach – U.K.-based parent firm HSBC Group does business in 70 countries and territories – and a companywide commitment to putting clients first. Not only are these his bank’s key competitive advantages against larger domestic peers, he says, but these attributes will power the bank’s ambitious growth plans in Canada.

“I’m a big believer that if you are excellent at serving your clients, your clients will reward you in the end,” Tomei says.

After 22 years at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, including a stint heading up the bank’s President’s Choice Financial subsidiary, Tomei joined HSBC Canada with a mandate to expand its domestic retail and wealth-management businesses, the smallest of the bank’s three business lines.

Tomei, who works out of the bank’s Toronto office, says that what drew him to HSBC Canada are the bank’s values and the opportunity to work at the domestic subsidiary of a global banking giant. With just $95.7 billion in total assets as of March 31, HSBC Canada is a relative minnow compared with Canada’s Big Five banks. However, parent HSBC Group, has $US2.4 trillion in total assets (as of March 31) and ranks among the world’s largest lenders.

“Quite frankly,” Tomei says, “it really does feel like I’ve graduated to HSBC.”

Under Tomei’s leadership, HSBC Canada is making significant investments in both its retail services and its wealth-management operations by, for example, committing resources to upgrading online banking and mobile platforms, and revamping the bank’s discount brokerage arm.

“We have to make our short-term investments to make sure we really build our long-term business here in Canada and our long-term legacy,” Tomei says.

Integral to HSBC Canada’s domestic growth strategy, the bank will continue to look for ways to leverage its parent’s international reach and expertise. Tomei cites the parent bank’s global asset-management capabilities as one example: “We have money managers in more than 30 countries.”

Unlike Canada’s big domestic banks, HSBC Canada doesn’t have a full-service investment brokerage business. Six years ago, the bank sold HSBC Securities (Canada) Inc. to National Bank of Canada. At the time the deal was announced, the brokerage had 120 financial advisors and $14.2 billion in assets under administration.

Instead, HSBC Canada offers an integrated wealth-management service that combines the retail lending and wealth businesses. Asset minimums to qualify for the different tiers of service available are based on a client’s combined banking and investment assets held at the bank.

In the “emerging mass-affluent” tier, HSBC Canada offers clients who have $25,000 or more in assets access to wealth products and advice services at the branch level. “We see [this market] as an opportunity,” Tomei says.

At the $100,000-plus “mass affluent” level, clients are eligible for the HSBC Premier service, which gives them access to a “premier relationship manager,” discretionary managed portfolio products and a variety of premium banking services.

A key advantage to these wealth-management services, Tomei says, is that they are global HSBC platforms. For example, clients on these platforms with bank accounts in, say, Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Hong Kong can select a “global view” option and are able to see all accounts simultaneously and transfer funds between each. “As far as I know, there’s no firm on the Street with that kind of service,” Tomei says.

For clients with $1 million or more in assets, HSBC Canada recently launched the Jade discretionary wealth-management service, which features access to a private-client relationship manager who serves a limited book of no more than 150 clients. That relationship manager will work with a team of investment counsellors and wealth planners on the client’s behalf.

One differentiating feature of the “invitation only” Jade platform, Tomei says, is that the service is provided through local HSBC Canada branches. “We look at data analytics, we look at where these clients are and we provide the service to them,” Tomei says.

Another part of Jade are the concierge services, such as help in booking a trip or securing front-row seats to a concert, all through a mobile app. The service is provided via a partnership between HSBC and a third-party concierge service firm. “You can get anything you need outside of financial planning [through the Jade service],” Tomei says. “Quite frankly, it’s what people with this type of wealth want.”

Tomei wouldn’t provide figures regarding the number of advisors HSBC Canada has, but says the bank is interested in growing its advisory force.

On the retail side, HSBC Canada will be looking to expand its 130-branch footprint, despite shuttering several locations in smaller Canadian cities this year. “We’ve done the work and we know there are pockets [of the country] where we should be,” says Tomei, who adds that new branches probably will open in Vancouver and Toronto.

As is the trend with other banks, the focus in new branches will be more on advice and less on transactions, Tomei says: “We will grow in line with our customer needs, but [branches] will look very, very different.”

HSBC Canada is spending “a significant amount of money” on digital upgrades, Tomei says, including recently launching the Apple Pay payments app. The bank recently revamped its HSBC InvestDirect online brokerage, Tomei notes: “We know that [some] clients still have trading needs, and still want to do that themselves.”

Regarding a robo-advice platform, Tomei says the bank is keeping “a very close eye” on this trend: “We’re looking at robo- advice. I can’t say when it’s going to happen, but I will say we’re looking at it quite seriously.”

The bank is committing resources to end-to-end transaction and advice capability for its retail products, such as bank accounts, credit cards, lines of credit and mortgages. This will allow clients to access services directly without visiting a branch. Should clients have questions, they have access to live chat online or can drop into a branch for advice.

“What’s coming out, loud and clear, is that clients want to do their service transactions on digital and they want – they’re demanding – more advice [too],” Tomei says. “Being the clientcentric organization that we are, we will have more advisors in our branches, on the phone, through digital via live chat, to be able to handle and provide that ‘white glove’ service.”

© 2017 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.