Barclays Wealth, the private banking unit of Barclays PLC, is "close" to agreeing on setting up a private banking joint venture with Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., a person familiar with the situation said Friday.

An agreement could come as soon as the next few weeks, the person said.

By signing an agreement with SMBC, Japan's third-largest bank, Barclays' private banking business would gain access to a new market in Asia.

Barclays Wealth currently has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and India. For Sumitomo, an agreement would give the bank's clients access to a new product with global reach.

Barclays and Sumitomo have been in talks for almost two years about a possible joint venture, ever since Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., SMBC's parent company, invested almost $1 billion for a 2% stake in Barclays in June 2008.

The private banking industry, hit hard by the global financial crisis two years ago, has been bouncing back. Banks have either been buying or setting up businesses in Asia in efforts to cater to the growing number of millionaires in the region, especially in India and China.

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