Barclays Wealth, the wealth management unit of London-based Barclays Plc , plans to hire experienced private bankers in the United States and Asia in line with its aim to grow assets under management by about 70 percent in the next three years.

It's an ambitious target that we are at the moment not backing down from, Barclays Wealth CEO Thomas Kalaris said on Friday at a press conference in Singapore.

For Asia, this would mean hiring 40-60 bankers in Asia over the next three years to add to the more than 100 on its payroll in Singapore, Hong Kong and India. The UK bank also wants to grow its U.S. wealth business from the current 250 bankers in 12 offices, he added.

Barclays is keen to grow its non-UK wealth management business and has set a target to grow overall assets under management to 290 billion pounds by the end of 2014 from about 170 billion pounds currently.

For the nine months ended September, the wealth unit achieved a pretax profit of 153 million pounds, a rise of 25 percent from 122 million pounds a year ago.

Kalaris said the Asian operations, which currently account for 10-15 percent of assets under management, were profitable despite the fierce competition for experienced bankers and upfront investments in infrastructure.

Globally, Barclays Wealth has a cost-to-income ratio of 87 percent, which should fall to 70-75 percent over time as spending on IT and other projects declines, he said.

Private bankers are making a beeline for Asia where wealth is growing faster than in Europe and North America. But competition has been tough. Australia's Macquarie Group recently sold its Asian private wealth portfolio to Switzerland's Julius Baer .

In contrast, many private banks are shunning U.S. clients because of tough new regulations, although some observers have said the repatriation of funds back to the United States may create opportunities for wealth managers there.

Asked what clients were doing with their money, Kalaris said many were sitting on the sidelines amid the turmoil in financial markets due to the euro zone debt crisis.

Broadly speaking, our clients, as you would expect have over the course of the last six months, held very high cash positions and they have been conservative in their outlook with regards to the economy and with regard to market volatility, he said.

(Reporting by Kevin Lim; Additional reporting by Rachel Armstrong; editing by Matt Driskill)

(Corrects cost-to-income ratio to 87 percent from 82 percent)