Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Tax evaders on the run

  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

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”.

Investment tales from private bankers

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By Neil Chatterjee

Top private bankers are no different from the rest of us when it comes to looking after their money.

Some, such as Citigroup’s head of investments in Asia and ex-Lehman banker Debashish Dutta Gupta sold everything when his former employer went bust. Others held on and took the paper losses, before increasing their fixed income exposure and slowly edging back into equities this year.

Private Bank finds synergy in public bar

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.

Private banking: you may be worth it

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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.

Wealth Management: What does the future hold?

Even the rich aren’t as well-off as they were a year ago but that’s not stopping the wealth management industry from focusing on what the future of private banking will look like after the economic downturn has passed. Click below to view my latest story:

No more musical chairs in banking industry-Merrill exec

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rahul.jpgAs global markets rallied over the past five years, talent in the private banking industry had become a heavily fought over commodity. Rain makers, top bankers and entire teams were poached constantly by rival organizations who offered top dollar for the move.

However the unprecedented financial crisis has dramatically changed the talent landscape, with rookie bankers facing a harder time to move up the ladder, said a Merrill Lynch executive.

We’re in this mess now, so stop moaning!

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rtr58um.jpgRegulation is a word bankers love to hate.

But according to Sebastian Dovey, managing partner of wealth management consultancy Scorpio Partnership, they need to spend less time moaning about it and more time working with regulators to communicate the benefits of the industry.

“It’s not good enough to sit back and say this is going to cost us,” he says. “We’re here now, we’re in this mess. We’ve got to try and manage our way out of it.

Audio – Kuwait Finance House sees silver lining in downturn

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lim-boh-soon.jpg Lim Boh Soon, chief executive officer of Kuwait Finance House in Singapore said at the Reuters Wealth Management Summit that he sees the period of downturn in the global economy lasting 18-24 months.

However, he thinks the market sell-off over the past two weeks has thrown up good value and said the Middle Eastern bank will look to raise up to $600 million for three Asia-focused funds next year.  Kuwait Finance House is the Gulf third-largest lender.

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