Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Rich seek ways to sit on the hedge

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Rich investors are taking more precautions than ever in their wealth, and instruments once seen as complex and exotic are becoming more commonplace in their portfolios, wealth managers said at the Reuters Private Banking Summit.

Asset classes such as foreign exchange, gold, oil and industrial commodities are beginning to have specific and identifiable hedging roles in portfolios, beyond the broad brush “diversification”.

That is a far cry from three years ago, when investors spread money around asset classes and managers in the vague hope that broad enough diversification would help them make money in all market conditions, or at least preserve wealth.

That notion disappeared during the financial crisis, along with around $12 trillion of market value.

Trusts can help women win back their fair share

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Investment trusts, financial constructions often associated to clever tax structuring, can actually help women inherit their fair share in countries were they are discriminated by law, a top private banker says.

“In countries where Shariah law is applied, being a woman is not as advantageous as being a man. In that situation, the trust allows the structuring to have children taken care of,” says Karen Simpson, the Swiss-based Head of Private Banking at Royal Bank of Canada, the world’s No.1 bank player in the trust business.

Fear factor driving gold higher

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“Gold is not an investment. It doesn’t pay you interest and it doesn’t increase wealth,” complained one investment advisor recently as he perused exploding client demand for the yellow metal.

“It’s just a cautious asset for scared investors,” he grumbled as he waved a chart showing prices had once again hit an all-time high.

You can’t avoid the taxman, but there may find a friendlier one in the Alps

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With the German government hot on the heels of untaxed wealth stashed in Swiss bank accounts, and the U.K. government taking a tougher stance on clawing back bonuses, rich folks will likely head for the hills – or the Alps to be more precise – senior private banking executives said in Geneva. 

“People are going to arbitrage different tax jurisdictions. We are going to see European clients moving to Switzerland, very large families,” said Alberto Valenzuela, deputy chief executive of Societe Generale Private Banking (Suisse) SA.

Time private bankers got professional

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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.

Everyone needs a private banker

- Everyone needs a private banker. Full service means exactly that for one speaker at the Reuters Wealth Management Summit. The ’normal’ range of extras that wealth managers are offering super-rich clients under the banner Lifestyle Management has expanded as they scramble to keep on board clients whose massive wealth was rendered a little less massive during the financial crisis.   Citigroup’s private banking arm keeps an art curator on staff to make sure clients don’t overspend at auctions and maximise the value of their collection – it’s a real problem apparently.   But one of the smaller banks represented at the summit goes a lot further than that. “We do pretty much whatever they want.” On further investigation this stops short of walking the dogs but it does include managing fleets of vehicles, relocation for tax exiles, school selection for the rich in-waiting, wine cellar stocking, art advice (of course) and payroll services for the hired help.   But what was the most unusual request he has ever had from a client? “We were once asked pick up some strange medication and we organised the redecoration of the interior of a private jet in questionable taste,” said one private banker. He wouldn’t say any more, but some might think that was too much detail already.

Tax evaders on the run

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  By Neil Chatterjee
    The U.S. has promised it will hunt down tax evaders.
    And it seems tax evaders are on the run.
    DBS bank, based in the growing offshore financial centre of
Singapore, told Reuters it had been approached by U.S. citizens
asking for its private banking services. But when told they would
have to sign U.S. tax declaration forms, the potential clients
disappeared.  
    Swiss banks also approached DBS on the hope they could
offload troublesome U.S. clients to a location that so far has
not been reached by the strong arms of Washington or Brussels.
    DBS said no thanks. In fact many private banks and boutique
advisors now seem to be avoiding U.S. clients.
    Will this spread to other nationalities, as governments
invest in tax spies and tax havens invest in white paint?
    Is this the end of offshore private private banking?

Private bankers chanting new mantra

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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”.

Private Bank finds synergy in public bar

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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.

Swiss brand key to banks’ cache

- One question kept coming up when I announced four years ago that I was moving from Washington to Geneva: ”Will you get a Swiss bank account?” There is an unmistakeable international cache surrounding Switzerland’s financial sector, whose infamy as a hiding place for Nazi gold has given way to Hollywood mystique about secretive numeric codes cracked by Da Vinci Code protagonists and James Bond.  But within the small Alpine country, which remains stubbornly outside the European Union despite sharing borders with France, Germany, Austria and Italy, bankers are in fact celebrated for being as dull as they are discrete.  Christian Raubach, managing partner of Switzerland’s oldest bank, Wegelin & Co, told the Reuters Wealth Management Summit that the biggest Swiss banks rely on their “Swissness and security and boringness” to attract clients from abroad. Guillaume Lejoindre, managing director at the Swiss private banking arm of France’s Societe Generale, said it was precisely this reputation that made Switzerland such a powerful financial power, even in an age when total secrecy has been abolished and big institutions like UBS admit to taking big risks akin to those that took down Lehman Brothers.  Droves of Saudi and Gulf banking clients file into Geneva to spend the summer with their families every year and wealthy Latin Americans are also clearly inclined to store their funds in Switzerland to try to make them less likely kidnapping and extortion targets. The strong overall brand means that the banks can charge a premium over other centres and also continue to draw in new funds even in dark economic times.  “What is the price of trust and confidence? What is the price of expertise? We all know that a Hermes bag is more expensive. Is it a problem? I don’t think so,” the Societe Generale executive said.  In this way, much like Swiss watches, Swiss hotels, Swiss chocolate and Swiss beauty creams, the biggest asset even the most endowed Swiss bank has is clearly its brand — which may actually hold more value internationally than at home.
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