The Global Swiss Private Bank In Changing Contexts - Sarasin Interview

Devina Shah London 5 April 2011

The Global Swiss Private Bank In Changing Contexts - Sarasin Interview

As the private banking landscape continues to change, both within and outside Europe, the global Swiss private bank – the traditional mid-tier firm which also seeks to have a thriving business outside Europe – must adapt, says Sarasin.

As the private banking landscape continues to change, both within and outside Europe, the global Swiss private bank – the traditional mid-tier firm which also seeks to have a thriving business outside Europe – must adapt, Fidelis Goetz, Bank Sarasin’s head of private banking for the regions of Asia and the Middle East, recently told WealthBriefing in an exclusive interview.

Meanwhile, private clients, whose movements and investments are nearly always international, will continue to have high expectations of their bankers, who will have to keep them happy while managing the impact of challenges such as environmental disasters, geopolitical uncertainty and regulatory change, said Goetz. And all this in addition to having to make your private banking brand stand out from the crowd in a hugely attractive and competitive market.

The Asian client

“The Asian client is a co-manager,” says Goetz, who has spent 12 years in Asia working in the wealth management industry. 

“The Asian client is equity driven. There’s a real love of the stock market as it’s so vibrant,” he said, adding that another general trait is the willingness to take more risk.

While this seemingly risk-loving client might sound like a wealth manager’s dream, Goetz is also quick to point out the expectations of a client from this region.

“What do Asians love? Luxury”, he said, highlighting that brand strategy in Asia as well as the Middle East is highly reliant on emphasising the luxury aspect of the private banking business. Although this might seem a statement of the obvious, private banking innately being a high-end business, the expectations of exclusivity seem to be higher from the wealthy in emerging economies, in his view.

Part of the way Goetz says Sarasin addresses this challenge is by hiring a lot of women as relationship managers. “Women understand the concept of luxury and service,” he says.

International talent management

In terms of hiring across the international landscape, Goetz says much of the time he banks on locals. He is keen on this because “they are attuned to the culture, they have a pre-established network and it’s less risky.”

Nevertheless, finding the right people for the job is still a key problem, although this is the case in the wealth management industry even in more established markets. He looks for people with 10 to 15 years of experience for senior positions, and has handpicked Sarasin’s key people in Asia and the Middle East. In these markets the demand for private bankers far outstrips supply as more and more people are getting wealthier faster, Goetz notes.

Where to invest in Asia

In terms of investment advice Goetz sees growth potential regionally in: Greater China ( as “this is where the bulk of the action is”); Mainland China and Hong Kong for real estate; and Indonesia for natural resources (as “this is where there is the richest and deepest potential”).

The impact of the Japanese crisis

Although Goetz says “it’s too premature to make any statements about the market in Japan”, he thinks that the Japanese will bring money back into domestic investment opportunities, which will likely emerge off the back of the re-shaping of the country that will now take place.

A key wider point he mentions is the impact on the energy industry. “The nuclear issue prompts a re-thinking of global energy strategy”, he says, adding that “sustainable energies have become fashionable again”.

The Middle East mid-crisis

Although North Africa and certain parts of the GCC are currently mired in political turmoil, Goetz emphasised Sarasin’s commitment to these markets. “We’re not packing up and going… We’re here to stay. We firmly believe that there are great opportunities here,” he said.

Goetz’s confidence of course chimes with that of much of the industry, with many firms continuing to open new offices and ramp up staffing in the region. In his view, there is “no reason to panic” unless the situation has a serious impact on oil.

Regulatory changes at home

In terms of changes for the Swiss banking model, Goetz admits that “the days are gone of banking secrecy in terms of tax avoidance”, adding that “Sarasin does not accept undeclared assets and aims to be rid of any remaining by the end of 2012.”

Saying this at a time when Swiss banking secrecy – a key feature of the country’s financial system for centuries – has been under international attack, Goetz acknowledges that a global Swiss bank must evolve, but that financial privacy remains an important issue.

Indeed,  a recent survey by the Swiss Bankers Association found that more than nine out of ten (91 per cent) of citizens in the Alpine state want to protect banking privacy, with 73 per cent favouring support for confidentiality in banking in general.

As wealth management becomes more complex, encompassing products in the wider financial world, the key question aside from government regulation is whether wealth managers really know their products. Goetz is sceptical that wealth managers are entirely au fait with their product offering, but points out that the increased emphasis on advisor qualifications and more stringent examinations should make clients feel safer and more secure.

One of the more positive outcomes to emerge from the financial crisis is of course the increased emphasis on “kicking the tyres” of financial products and making sure that investments represent a truly appropriate level of risk. In terms of Sarasin’s own approach to assessing clients’ risk tolerance, Goetz explained that Sarasin uses a system based on research, documents and interviews which, all-in-all, comprises 17 checks.

In Asia and the Middle East Bank Sarasin has offices in the following locations: Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong, Manama, Mumbai, Muscat, New Delhi and Singapore. Assets under management for Asia and the Middle East reached SFr 20.5 billion by the end of 2010, with net new money flows of SFr3.3 billion.

Fidelis Goetz joined Bank Sarasin as a member of the executive committee in December 2006, going on to head the international division in 2007 and 2008. Since January 2009 he has been head of private banking, along with Eric Sarasin, and is based in Basel and Zurich. Goetz previously had a long career with Credit Suisse in Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  

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