During the 12 months I have covered the private banking and wealth management sector as the editor of PBI, I have learned much about this notoriously secretive and discrete industry.
Many players in this sector like to do things the way they always have done: managing their client’s wealth. But there is little to write about here.
Others love to talk the talk: Fintech, millennials, ESG, blockchain. But every journalist has heard it all before and few believe those airy ideals. In reality, most of these companies that talk about these things do few of them.
In-between the noise and the silence, it is hard to find the story: Where is the industry succeeding and why? And equally, where are its failures?
But any reporter wants a challenge and there is always evidence of both if you look closely enough. This is what I have tried to do over the last year, and here are some of those stories that have stood out.
PBI interviewed HNWIs and psychologists about the impact that wealth can have on mental illness. Not only was this a first for PBI, but few in the industry have even addressed this mammoth issue that toils on both client and advisor. Hopefully there are signs of this changing.
This article looked beyond banks’ oft-touted philanthropy offerings and found that few actually offer the services that HNWIs require when it comes to giving their wealth away. No longer a perk, philanthropy is now seen as an essential offering from a private bank and advisors need to up their game or their clients will shop elsewhere.
Lifting the lid on family offices was an interesting foray into this discrete but growing wealth management niche. Why is it growing though? Most of their clients, executives said, were simply fed up with the sales-orientated approach and rapid staff turnover at private banks. Family office growth isn’t letting up either, suggesting that more and more HNWIs are leaving banks for boutiques.
There is barely a private bank that does not tout succession-planning services and next-gen jollies are commonplace in the industry. But most of these are self-interested: Banks are worried about looking out on wealth transfers and are therefore eager to please both generations any way they can. But succession experts and conflict resolution coaches say this approach rarely works outs for the family’s, and therefore their, best interest.
Private banking owes much of its origins to the Swiss model. But now that secrecy is no longer a hallmark of banking in Switzerland, many are having to reinvent themselves on an international stage. Will this work?
While these stories might seem overly critical, they are all areas I believe private banks can and should improve.
But the real test for private banks is surely only about to begin. Having read a year’s worth of sentiment reports and attended dozens of investment updates, there seems little doubt that the current economic cycle is slowing. Whether CIOs predict a recession or better is almost irrelevant: Private banks will need to preserve wealth in ever trying conditions. Suddenly their raison d’être – making wealthy people wealthier – will be put to the test.
This is the exciting part from a journalist’s perspective. But I will be leaving it to PBI’s new editorial team to have all the fun. This is my last article.