Washington insiders say that not since the 1890's have the people that represent the U.S. been so divided. From Gay rights to Afghanistan lawmakers are at polar opposites on issues that are on the Obama administration's agenda. What's next? And, what's likely to get the green light or the stop sign?
It's hard to imagine that a banker who represents multimillionaires would be anything but professional - but a top executive at a leading global bank thinks that's precisely the wealth management industry's problem.
"There is so much mediocrity in the industry we have to raise the bar here," said Gerard Aquilina, vice chairman of Barclays Wealth, at the Reuters Global Wealth Management Summit in Geneva.
To Aquilina's way of thinking, private bankers need the same "institutional rigor" as investment bankers in the way they operate. To this end the bank is looking to pursue only top-quality hires.
"Our strategy is not to be the hoover that comes and hires willy-nilly, we want to be much more selective," said Aquilina -- perhaps an ironic view given Barclays acquired thousands of investment bankers from the ashes of the fallen Lehman Brothers last year.
But he and his colleagues are so sure of their position that he said they are working on developing MBA-level courses with some unnamed top universities on private banking, especially as they see fewer and fewer interns turning up their noses at the prospect of a three-month rotation in the private banking shop.
They're not alone, either. Alexander Classen, head of EMEA wealth management for Morgan Stanley, said his firm too was seeing more and more people turn up to recruiting presentations on college campuses, whereas at one time they would have summarily shunned the private bankers for the investment banking sessions.
Things may have changed since then, but private banks may still have their work cut out if they want to attract talent early. After all, as Aquilina himself admitted, "There are not many people at eighteen who say, 'Hey Dad, I want to be a private banker'. Most people just fall into it."
Private bankers still getting their ears bashed from clients enraged about massive portfolio losses now are chanting a new mantra.
Murmur along with me, those seeking inner peace and appeased clients: the word is “holistic".
Three years ago, before Lehman and Madoff shattered clients’ confidence, the soothing formula might have been "absolute returns" or "structured products". No longer.
Bankers shooting French cuffs in Super 180 suits and obsessed with spread sheets now are seizing on a word redolent of green tea, acupuncture, crystals and the New Age.
"Holistic" bubbled up at least four times at the Reuters Global Wealth Management Summit as bankers and consultants in Singapore and Geneva outlined how to keep clients after the market meltdown.
But what does a word meaning that whole entities have an existence other than the sum of their parts have to do with rich people and the gnomes that mind their money?
"Holistic" in bank-speak translates as handholding, face time and hustling to assure wary clients bankers are on the job. Mass mailings are out, daily phone calls are in.
The results have yet to be seen but bankers hope their "holistic" approach will prove to be more than the sum of its parts.
It is a little known fact that private bank Wegelin, Switzerland’s oldest bank is also active in the bars and restaurants business.
In its ‘Nonolet’ bars – a play on the Latin saying pecunia non olet (money doesn’t stink) - in St. Gallen and in Geneva, hedge fund managers and other financial professionals rub shoulders with other locals in the early evening over sparkling wine or champagne and snacks.
It may sound an odd sort of diversification, but Wegelin says there were forced to try a new line of business to ensure an upmarket crowd mingled on the ground floor of the Wegelin building.
“You cannot have a strange business there like a kebab shop,” said Wegelin partner Christian Raubach.
Wegelin was forced to launch a hostile takeover on a local bar which had attracted a lot of unruly drinkers near its St. Gallen branch office.
“We bought the bar, we fired the owners, and we put a nice Café in so we get a different crowd. The crowd that sits during the day drinking coffee and not vomiting drinking beer at night,” Raubach said.
The operation proved to be a success but is unlikely to develop in to a brand new business area.
“Everybody thinks Nonolet is probably very profitable..let me tell you private banking is a much better business,” Raubach says.
The days of luxury VIP lounges are gone for many private bankers, as the crisis forces them to travel economy to save money.
Thrift has become the new mantra for private banks and, like with many other industry segments already, getting out of the office is allowed only if there are clients to meet.
"We are making sure everything we do is efficient. We travel economy now," says Samir Raslan, Region Head for Central, Northern Europe, Africa and Turkeyat Citi Private Bank.
Citi, one of the big wealth management players that was hit hard in the financial crisis, has gone on a slimming diet and cut about 25 percent of costs and about 20 percent of stuff in the last year.
Raslan says he does not see any more cost cutting, but the no-frill travel rule stays.
Those who tend to avoid posh restaurants in Geneva’s expensive Rue du Rhone district and famed private banks because they believe they are not rich enough may be given a second chance at century-old wealth manager Julius Baer.
The Swiss private bank, which has made its name thanks to the services it offers to the ultra-rich, believe its powerful high-end brand may be keeping potential clients away.
“It’s a bit like the nice chic restaurant on Rue du Rhone you walk by 10 times and think: “I am not so sure I can go in there, it might be a bit sophisticated,” Boris Collardi, Chief Executive of Bank Julius Baer, told the Reuters Wealth Management Summit in Geneva.
“And then you end up going in there and you have a wonderful meal.”
Private banking services at Julius Baer start at around 1 million Swiss francs.
Even for an American who's not wealthy, Geneva has a reputation as a global centre for wealth management - the place the world's rich come to stash their money and (they hope) make it grow.
But you don't necessarily expect it to be so aggressive -- after all, the rich tend to be demure when it comes to their banking.
Imagine one reporter's surprise, then, on arriving in the airport in Geneva and seeing bank ads everywhere. Think of the casino adds in Las Vegas's McCarron Airport or the technology ads in San Jose's Mineta Airport: it's the exactly the same in Geneva, only with wealth managers.
Look left - there's UBS. Look right - there's Julius Baer. Look up in the baggage queue - there's a Swiss bank that emphasises a focus on the Arab world. A complete unscientific guesstimate suggests the display ads in the terminal run about 75 percent wealth management and 25 percent fine watches. (No surprise that every other storefront in the Ville Centre area of Geneva has watches on offer.)
There is one plus to all of the bank ads in the airport for the less wealthy though. Tell your cab driver to head toward their addresses and you're likely to find the city's best cafes.