EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The Sky's The Limit For Asia's Philanthropy Space, Says UBS

Chrissy Coleman, Hong Kong, 3 December 2012


The Swiss banking giant talks to this publication about its work in the philanthropy area and some of the challenges thrown up by recent developments.

Uncertainty is a concept that many, if not all, banks have become inured to in recent years as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. And UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, is no exception to this fact, especially in light of recent global cutbacks that shook the industry and its investors.

However, for Mario Marconi, head of philanthropy and value-based investing at UBS Wealth Management, three things are certain. Firstly, philanthropic and sustainable investment (or values-based investing, as UBS calls it) are integral to wealth management. Secondly, demand for related advisory services is growing.  And thirdly, Asia will take a leading role in the philanthropic, sustainable and impact investing space.

The UBS philanthropy and values based investing team has offices in the US, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore, with satellites scattered around key hubs in the world. These satellites are set up where the bank is already present, so that Marconi and his colleagues have access to local expertise and an overview of global developments. He highlights the overall UBS network as being a core part of the firm’s value proposition to his clients – managing $1.6 trillion of private assets globally, with over $204billion in the Asia Pacific region, the company is certainly well connected.

Role of wealth managers

“We look at that (philanthropic and sustainable investment) as part of how we define wealth management. There might be some slowdown because of the economic impact, but definitely, demand for advice is growing,” Marconi said in an exclusive interview with WealthBriefingAsia.

UBS Wealth Management became the first bank to build a dedicated professional team in philanthropic advisory back in 2004 and Marconi feels that the role of the wealth manager is becoming increasingly important in clients’ philanthropic experiences.

He referred to some research he came across in the World Wealth Report (conducted by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, 2010), which concluded that demand for philanthropic-related services offered by wealth management firms is on the rise. Specifically, the study found that advice on financial planning and tax aspects of philanthropy were the most demanded service of philanthropic offerings. Additionally, nearly half of all advisors said their High Net Worth clients were asking for information related to philanthropic project organisation and selection.

 “The point is not to make them (wealth managers) experts,” Marconi said, explaining that their roles are already highly complex. Instead, the key capabilities wealth managers should develop are:

1.      The ability to identify when a client has a need to explore the social investment/philanthropic area.

2.       To be able to engage them in the first discussion on this personal topic.

After this initial dialogue between the client and his or her wealth manager, “the experts need to come in” – the experts being Marconi and his team.

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