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Nomura Holdings Inc. is moving forward with plans to hire wealth managers for its new China operation, though the outbreak of the new coronavirus threatens to slow the expansion, according to an executive overseeing the project.

“We are entering the phase of adding front-line staff,” including bankers who sell investment products to rich clients, Toshiyasu Iiyama, the brokerage’s China committee chairman, said in a recent interview. While the spreading virus has yet to cause any noticeable delays to the strategy, it has the potential to “slow the speed,” he said.

The deadly epidemic in China comes as global banks rush to capitalize on the nation’s moves to open its $45 trillion (¥4.9 quadrillion) financial industry. It’s too early to say whether there will be any long-term effects, but widespread travel restrictions are in place and firms including Nomura have told workers returning from the mainland to work from home.

Nomura has joined UBS Group AG and Credit Suisse Group AG in establishing wealth management operations in the mainland, confident that its expertise catering to rich Japanese will give it an edge. Japan’s biggest securities firm has so far recruited about 100 people for its Shanghai-based securities joint venture, including President Sun Dongqing, former head of wealth management at China International Capital Corp., Iiyama said.

Wealth business represents the first of a series of steps planned by Nomura to build a full-blown Chinese brokerage by 2023. The brokerage is hoping that developing relationships with rich clients such as company owners will help it land investment banking business later on.

“I believe that we can clearly differentiate ourselves” from Chinese competitors by offering internationally diversified products, Iiyama said. Investment trust and Japanese exchange-traded stock funds are among those it’s considering, he said.

“The key is how many such products we can line up” while complying with Chinese rules, such as those that restrict cross-border movements of capital, he said.

Having a bigger pool of offerings can give private bankers more opportunities to earn commissions — something that has allowed local securities firms to attract recruits even as foreign competitors offer bigger base salaries.

Nomura has yet to face intense competition for workers in China, partly because it has relied on local employees to tap their networks, Iiyama said. The firm hopes to open branches in Beijing and Shenzhen this year.

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