All posts by Ben Berkowitz

Ben Berkowitz covers the insurance industry in New York City. He rejoined Reuters in Amsterdam in May 2009, covering the Dutch banking system and economy. He originally worked for Reuters in Los Angeles and New York from 2001 to 2006 covering everything from video games to oil. In between he was business editor at AOL, head of the editing desk at AP Business News and managing editor of

Time private bankers got professional

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."






Geneva is for wealth management

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.