Standard Chartered was Hit With First S&P Downgrade in Two Decades
Standard Chartered was hit with first S&P downgrade in two decades.Reuters

Standard Chartered bank is planning to start a Dubai business desk for Japanese clients, as it targets more affluent customers for its retail banking business, turning its focus away from the mass market, according to media reports.

A senior executive at the bank told Reuters the bank will shift its retail bank's focus from mass market to affluent customers and urge more customers online as it looks to cut down high costs for its retail banking operations.

"We have a fantastic business with 10 million clients in 34 countries...but the problem is high costs," Karen Fawcett, global head of the bank's retail clients unit told Reuters in an interview.

Fawcett wants to reduce the division's cost-income ratio, which shows a bank's costs in relation to its income, from 67% to 65% by the end of the year, and ultimately to 55%.

The Asia-focused bank will close "a lot of branches in Korea and Pakistan and a few in most markets," according to her.

Bloomberg separately reported the bank will consider starting a desk in Dubai for Japanese corporate clients who wish to expand business in the Middle East.

It will also increase staff in Singapore to service Japanese customers that want to boost operations in Southeast Asia, Yasunori Takeuchi, chief executive officer for Japan, told the news agency in an interview.

In addition to the proposed Dubai desk, Standard Chartered already has Japan desks in China, Singapore, India and Africa.

"Japan is still small among our 70 global locations, but it's strategically important because we connect Japanese companies with Asia, the Middle East and Africa," Takeuchi was quoted as saying.

In January, the company said it is closing the bulk of its global equities business, and cutting 4,000 jobs in the retail banking division as part of a cost-cutting initiative.

From the retail banking division, the bank has axed 2,000 staff in recent months and plans to relieve another 2,000 during 2015.

In November, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the London-based bank for the first time, after the bank issued three profit warnings in less than 12 months amid rising losses from bad loans.

In October, the bank reported third-quarter operating profit of $1.53bn, down 16% from $1.83bn in the previous year.

CEO Peter Sands has been under pressure from shareholders to turn around the business due to poor performance. He said the bank is exiting or reconfiguring noncore and underperforming businesses, and is on track to deliver at least $400m of cost saves for 2015.