EXCLUSIVE GUEST ARTICLE: The Private Banker At The Centre Of Client Experience

John Koh WMRC Private Ltd Managing Director Singapore 11 October 2013

EXCLUSIVE GUEST ARTICLE: The Private Banker At The Centre Of Client Experience

What are the key actions that private bankers in Asia can take to improve the client experience? John Koh, managing director of executive firm WMRC Private Ltd, shares his insights.

What are the key actions that private bankers in Asia can take to improve the client experience? John Koh, managing director of executive firm WMRC Private Ltd, shares his insights. This publication is pleased to share these insights: as ever, the views expressed here are those of the author and company, and not necessarily shared by this publication.


More intimately engaged with the client than anyone or any touch-point in the entire client experience, the private banker is the human face of a bank defining the overall satisfaction level of a client. How happy the client is with his or her private banker affects how much assets would be brought over, the level of investment activity, the potential to refer others in their circle of influence, and even down to issues surrounding inter-generational wealth transfer and gifting. In the face of mounting competition and regulatory changes, how has the role of the private banker changed and how does that affect client experience?  

What are some key actions that private bankers can take to further enhance client experience and how do banks ensure they are hiring the right people for such a critical role? 

The role of the private banker has in recent years, become increasingly challenged in the face of mounting competition and regulatory changes. 

Many wealth managers are citing the rising costs of compliance as a major impediment to their business growth. Not only are regulations becoming stricter in terms of approving a new client account, existing clients are also subject to more pervasive surveillance on their trading activities and banking transactions.

Concurrently, the industry is undergoing massive changes since the global financial crisis.  Consolidation is happening rapidly and there have been significant merger and acquisition activities among the key players over the last two years. 

The number of international names in Asia’s private banking arena has reduced lately with the disappearance of names such as Merrill Lynch, ING, Clariden Leu and Fortis.   Others such as BSI Bank and Societe Generale are reportedly in talks with potential buyers. (To view an item on the Societe Generale situation, click here.)

On the surface, it looks like the competitive landscape has grew milder with fewer players but on closer scrutiny, the level of competition has actually grown keener with the emergence of numerous non-traditional players, such as the independent asset managers and family offices.

Global financial institutions such as investment banks and fund managers (which traditionally aren’t strong players in the wealth management space) are also jumping onto the bandwagon on the promise of the creation of new wealth and the huge potential opportunity in Asia.It is no surprise that clients in Asia are baffled by these recent developments.

Dilemma faced by Asia’s wealthy

Many of them are finding it hard to differentiate among the various service providers, let alone understand how relevant their service would be for them.  With the financial crisis still fresh in their minds, many are still cautious about getting into a new banking relationship as they have seen how even well-established names have faltered during the crisis.

However, managing your own money is a difficult and time-consuming task and Asian clients know that if they want to enjoy their wealth and be able to sleep well at night, they need professional help. 

That professional help comes in the form of the private banker or a trusted advisor – someone whom clients expect to be fully conversant with the latest financial products in town and can depend on for strategic advice on their financial matters.

Comparing Asian’s wealthy to those in the West, they are less experienced in utilizing the full suite of wealth management services which often encompass financial planning, investments, trust services, tax planning across several jurisdictions, inter-generational wealth transfer and philanthropy.

Many Asian clients derive their wealth from their business ventures and in every conversation they have with their advisor, their business issues inevitably come into the picture. In fact, so intertwined are their business and personal wealth needs that a number of wealth managers are realigning their business banking and private wealth solutions to better cater to the needs of these business owners and entrepreneurs.

The level of sophistication and competence of the private banker therefore has a strong influence on client experience.

Role of the private banker

Private bankers are no longer just high-end salespeople good at wining and dining their clients. More than having just good interpersonal and communication skills, clients are expecting them to have strong knowledge of products (both external open product architecture and internal in house products), as well as good cross-selling skills.

They must be capable of giving comprehensive wealth management advice; able to make sound investment calls which deliver sustainable performance; be good at product innovation and able to develop new solutions to problems.

Perhaps the Achilles’ heel for many private bankers lies in their propensity to jump ship and secure a higher salary. To most clients, switching a relationship manager or a firm every year or two totally irks them. Depending on how strong their relationship with their banker is and how “institutionaliaed” they are with the firm, some clients would rather uproot their assets to continue their relationship with their banker or choose to remain with the firm with a new RM. 

Studies show that Asian clients are becoming more discerning when picking their wealth managers. Gone are the days when they would maintain five or more private banking accounts. It is now common to have just three accounts to fully service their private banking needs, and have another one or two accounts with the non-traditional wealth managers, i.e. independent asset manager, family office or fund manager.

In enriching client experience, private bankers need to carefully consider their career options and decide which platform suits them best. With clients consolidating their private banking accounts, bankers need to make sure they remain relevant and continue to be among the top three bankers their clients would like to do business with.

Impact of technology

How well are wealthy clients taking to new technology, such as social media and smart IT gadgets? And how would that affect their private banking experience?

Wealth people are heavy users of technology and smart gadgets. They are often among the first adopters of what's new and available and that is likely due to their ability to spend and their curiosity to experiment and try new things.

Technology has the ability to make information available quickly and thereby improving efficiency – which very much appeal to the rich. In fact, smart phones, tablets, social networking and video are increasingly becoming the norm in the communication tools that the wealthy use and wealth managers must be able to adapt to the digital media to fully engage with their clients.

Private bankers know their clients are very busy people and rather than meeting them face-to-face and sending reports or letters, digital technology is now making client interaction more efficient via emails, text messages and clever applications that enable clients to do more wirelessly.

Hiring the best private banker candidate

With the private banker being such a key figure in the entire client experience, are banks getting their hiring strategy right? What are some crucial points they need to address whenever they look at a potential candidate?

Below is a quick checklist:

-- How strong is the candidate’s knowledge of the various aspects of wealth management, in other words, financial planning, investments, trust services, tax planning, wealth transfer and philanthropy?

-- If the candidate is weak in certain aspects, is he/ she resourceful enough to rope in the relevant specialists to work with?

-- How confident is the candidate in engaging with business owners and entrepreneurs?  Would he/ she have good understanding and knowledge of business banking needs and cross-sell intelligently?

-- Besides the mainstream private banking products, how knowledgeable is the candidate on alternative products and service platforms rendered by independent asset managers or family office?

- Does the candidate have a strong track record of making sound investment calls? Is he/ she quick at grasping new product ideas and concepts, and applying them to unique client needs?

-- What is the main motivation for wanting to move? Is the candidate motivated mainly by financial gains or is he/ she moving to better meet the interests and needs of clients?

-- How technology savvy is the candidate?  Is he/ she totally comfortable with the use of IT tools and gadgets, such as smart phones, tablets and social media? Is he/ she good at leveraging on technology to foster closer relationships with clients?

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