Fast-paced digitisation, leading to both enhanced customer experience and a more efficient business model, has taken over from investment-led innovation in the private banking world

Private banks have, for many years, talked about moving to an investment-led model, away from tax breaks, secrecy and ‘walking the dog’ concierge culture. But a detailed study of 120 entries for the 2016 Global Private Banking Awards shows the reality is very different.

Key facts 

  • In 2016, the number of categories has reached a new peak since the Private Banking Awards were launched in 2009. Applicants could choose to apply for one or more of the 81 categories available, versus 77 in 2015. Sixty different private banks were selected as winners, the same number as 2015.
  • Turnover across winners was healthy too, and in 40% of 81 categories available, the 2016 winners were different from those in 2015. Nine institutions have won an award for the first time.
  • New categories included or re-introduced this year: Best Private Bank in Qatar, Egypt, Romania, Cayman Islands, Greece and Cyprus and also Best Private Bank for Entrepreneurs, UHNW Clients and Family Offices.
  • One in three applicants, the highest percentage across all categories, entered Best Private Bank for Customer Service award. The judges decided to split this category into Best Private Bank for US and Best Private Bank for International Customer Service. Further regional or country-based customer service categories will be added in the future. 
  • We received 120 submissions from 60 countries around the world, covering all regions. These included North America, Central and Latin America, Western Europe, central and eastern Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia and Australia/Oceania. 
  • On average, each institution has applied for 4.5 categories, among a total of 540 category-specific entries.

Investment skills and returns no longer appear to be key differentiators among leading private banks. Most now market themselves in terms of global reach, technical knowhow and digital prowess, and, of course, softer skills such as service and empathy with clients. The key question today is whether clients now look to private banks to manage portfolios to the best possible efficiency, or whether they have other needs in their relationship, more important than the lure of profits.

Only a handful of banks, mainly in the US, presented any evidence of expertise in up-to-the minute institutional style investment strategies, incorporating latest thinking on factor investing and asset allocation, despite the fact that all private wealth managers claim to be investment experts.

There have been many recent asset management innovations. Yet it seems private banks are either falling behind other institutions in the way they are overseeing assets of the world’s wealthiest families, or they have other priorities in mind. Our panel of 15 judges was divided about the very question whether private banks should be investment leaders.

“Few wealth managers appear to revisit their investment approaches in this era where politics more than economics drive the returns,” says Amin Rajan, founder of the Create consultancy, a key supporter of building innovative solutions to asset management problems. 

Current distortions in asset values require “new lenses” going well beyond old assumptions of “modern” portfolio theory, to which private banks are still clinging, despite much of it being discredited since the 2008 crisis, argues Mr Rajan. “I was looking for some fresh thinking, which was not much on display,” he says.

Those banks that do care about investments, particularly introducing new thinking in alternatives in a time of near-zero interest rates, such as Banque Syz and LGT, are picking up more recognition for their efforts. But rather than creating alpha, the majority of submissions focused on non-investment issues, such as client service and technology. This is a positive development, according to Sebastian Dovey, co-founder of the Scorpio wealth think-tank, which conducts a wide range of insight programmes for wealth managers, researching the views of private clients about what they are seeking – and obtaining – from their wealth providers.

“Firms are beginning to recognise that major drivers of future growth in terms of net new assets are not centred on promoting investment strategies and performance,” he says. “The biggest contributors to growth – based on client feedback collated – are service factors, such as access to the wider range of client service team specialists, while technology also provides the opportunity for greater efficiencies which is also an expected standard.”

Substantial investors in digitisation – the likes of UBS, Citi and Northern Trust – remain among our major award winners, but the club is not as exclusive as it once was. Singapore’s DBS has gained a firm toe-hold in the innovation and technology league tables. Both CaixaBank and BBVA have shown how Spanish private banks have digitised faster and deeper than in countries which appeared to have an advantage before the race began. Fast consolidation on the previously recession-ravaged Iberian peninsular means only those that have moved quickly have been able to move into the new, more optimistic era.


  • Gerard Aquilina Independent Family Office Advisor
  • Yuri Bender Editor-in-Chief, Professional Wealth Management
  • Seb Dovey Partner, Scorpio Partnership
  • Shelby du Pasquier Partner, Head of Banking and Finance Group, Lenz & Staehelin
  • Christian A. Edelmann Global Head Corporate & Institutional Banking and Wealth & Asset Management Practices, Oliver Wyman
  • Faranak Foroughi Founder and CEO of Tharwa Management Consultancy
  • Simeon Fowler CEO, Fowler Fox & Co group of companies
  • Julia Leong Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • Silvia Pavoni Economics Editor, The Banker
  • Alois Pirker Research Director Wealth Management, AITE Group
  • Amin Rajan CEO, Create-Research
  • Ivan Sacks Chairman, WithersWorldwide
  • Ray Soudah Founder, MilleniumAssociates, 
  • William Sullivan Global Head of Market Intelligence, Capgemini Financial Services 
  • Cara Williams Global Head of Wealth Manager and Global Technology Solutions, Mercer

It is not the case that the other banks are not spending money, far from it. The financial services industry is, after all, among the top three investors in technology worldwide, according to Scorpio. But many banks are investing the bulk of their vast technology budgets in platforms and operational processes, not in digital communication with clients, which is what our award winners are concentrating more resources on.

There is no doubt that technology has taken centre stage in the business model and client relationship channels of private banks. There is a bifurcation taking place, with a handful of innovators pulling away from the pack, which struggles to develop a vision, according to the Aite Group’s Alois Pirker. He warns those higher up the food chain that they will have a tougher job than high-net-worth or mass-affluent advisers in mixing digital progress in with the human touch. “Solutions will have to be tightly integrated with adviser-led services,” he says, making implementation a complex undertaking. “It is hard to leverage pre-fabricated digital platforms and a custom approach is required for firms that want to differentiate from competitors.”

Swiss banks in particular dominated PWM/The Banker’s awards in the early days, as their thinking in private banking seemed more advanced. UBS, for one, remains an industry leader, “almost unplayable” for competitors in some segments and areas of expertise where it moves. Pictet is still a formidable force in Switzerland and Europe. But other powers are starting to fade.

A new cohort of banks is emerging against this backdrop of a fading if still vibrant empire. They care less about the Swiss way of doing things and are self-confident in their own, home-grown approach to private banking. France’s BNP Paribas, the Netherlands’ ABN Amro and the UK’s Coutts fall into this category. “Switzerland as a financial centre does not have a monopoly on the way the global wealth industry conducts itself,” says Mr Dovey. “Global private clients are not magnetically attracted to Swiss booking centres any more,” in the way they were just a handful of years ago.

A parallel move towards onshore private banking is in full flow. UBS was ridiculed 15 years ago, recalls Mr Dovey, when it publicly declared its global, 10-year onshore strategy, prioritising a handful of European domestic markets. Now it is extending this thinking to Asia. But both local and international operators are catching up in the Far East, where UBS once appeared to hold an unassailable lead. 

Latin America, on the other hand, remains unconquered territory for many global private banks. Of the Latin players, only Banco Itaú and BTG Pactual show any cross-border, regional ambitions, says family office adviser Gerard Aquilina, former leader of several global private banks. Local Latin markets still have much room for growth, with the ‘behemoths’ of Brazil and Mexico offering much to those brave enough to invest.

It is clear from the vast majority of submissions that although clients and regulators are dictating major changes, with banks beginning to address huge cost bases, that the much predicted overhaul of the private banking business model is still to come. However, it is getting closer and the shapes on the horizon are becoming clearer.

  • Best Global Private Bank
  • Best Private Bank in Asia
  • Winner: UBS Wealth Management

While other banks are beginning to challenge the Swiss giant in many geographical and client segments, UBS remains far ahead of the competition both globally and in its key growth market of Asia, where much of its international revenue and client asset flows are coming from.

As the world’s largest wealth manager, with $2000bn of client assets under its watchful eye, the UBS Wealth Management business contributed 45% of group profits in 2015, with annualised growth of 6.5%, the highest since 2007.

UBS has always liked the idea of big goals, setting its relationship managers bright, visionary strategic targets of which staff are reminded on a weekly basis. For 2015, these have included ‘embedding’ investment management and portfolio construction into the bank’s ‘DNA’; transforming advisory business by shifting advisory assets into mandates in order to boost fee revenue; growing the ultra-high-net-worth segment while also invigorating high net worth and affluent customer business; expanding the global footprint and ‘balancing’ offshore/onshore business by expanding in China, through boosting the Shanghai operation, and in Italy through acquiring Santander’s onshore business.

“Currently, Singapore and Hong Kong are our two key booking centres in Asia,” says Jürg Zeltner, global CEO of UBS Wealth Management. “But moving forward, we expect the domestic businesses to become increasingly important and we have exciting plans for China, Taiwan and Japan.” The bank opened a Shanghai branch in March and in April, an office in Kowloon, Hong Kong, across the water from the central business district, which already has 50 staff and is growing fast. 

With 2800 wealth management staff in the Asia-Pacific region, 1000 of them client advisers, UBS is ahead of any other wealth managers in Asia. Many of these staff are put through internal education programmes such as the Ultra High Net Worth Academy.

At the same time, the bank is not neglecting its operational challenges, adapting its operating model to enhance efficiency. This has been achieved through a concerted effort from head office in Zurich to leverage the Swiss platform across different geographies, while outsourcing non-core functions, including various technology services to outlying countries, often in developing markets, where labour, office and infrastructure costs are much cheaper. Continued advancement to ‘meet the digital age’ is being met with significant IT investments, responding to client expectations. However, there is an even bigger incentive for UBS than regulations, costs and meeting demands of increasingly savvy and demanding private clients.

The history of UBS as a wealth manager shows the first juggernaut to almost implode, yet also the first to settle with the US authorities and become fully compliant and among the first to transform from a secrecy-led to asset management-led private banking model. There is a pride in leadership – UBS wants to be the bank that sets the standards in the private banking industry, and currently there are few challengers to suggest that it will have to relinquish this role any time soon. 

  • Best Private Bank in Europe
  • Best Private Bank in Switzerland
  • Winner: Pictet Wealth Management

For Pictet, which recently shook off its old unlimited liability partnership structure in favour of a less secretive approach, Europe is seen the key strategic region for expansion, employing nearly 1000 staff in the old continent.

European hubs where the Swiss bank is stepping up its presence include Luxembourg, where Pictet has had a presence in since 1989. Indeed, the group’s Luxembourg bank supervises Pictet’s banking branches in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, as well as Hong Kong.

Pictet’s European arm has continued to grow in headcount and assets. Its Luxembourg office has recently launched Pictet Technologies, a ‘financial technologies factory’ established to serve group needs for IT developments. Pictet says the new start-up-style company will hire 30 IT specialists by the end of 2016 and up to 80 by the end of 2020.

The bank has added 15 staff in France during the past 12 months, while increased regional coverage of Germany has benefited from new hires of specialist teams, with further expansion under consideration. The Italian focus has been mainly in the country’s north, following the opening of an office in Verona in 2015, strengthening the bank’s presence in one of Italy’s most prosperous regions.

Pictet Wealth Management has also been busy expanding in London, with particular emphasis on hiring senior bankers, adding 12 staff in 2014 and another six in the first half of 2015, prior to moving into new offices twice the size of previous accommodation. 

  • Best Private Bank in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Best Private Bank in Austria
  • Winner: Erste Private Banking

Erste Private Banking is the leading private bank in Austria and in central and eastern Europe (CEE), with more than 10,000 clients in Austria, and another 9000 in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Romania. Private client growth has been quite healthy, at 3.5% to 4% over the past couple of years. 

In the home market of Austria, where private banking manages €13.9bn, this growth has been based on an aggressive approach to boosting client numbers, including a cold-call strategy using bought contact details for potential clients, and special network events.

The bank has done more than simply try to get new clients, however. It has thought a lot in recent times about the quality of the customer experience. “Supportive and straight organisational structures, a realistic sizing of client numbers for each relationship manager, as well as powerful software environment and training are just a few examples of what is crucial in order to further increase quality,” says Wolfgang Traindl, head of private banking and institutional clients at Erste Bank Österreich – referring to both Austria and the CEE region. 

Socially responsible investing and philanthropy have risen in importance in private banking in recent years; in 2015 the bank produced new material showing how socially responsible clients could invest, and how they could engage in philanthropy through the bank’s network partners.

“Interest in this topic started in Austria, but it has gained more and more attention in CEE too,” says Mr Traindl. “Clients are starting to think about their ecological footprint in clothing, driving a car, but also in investments.

“Our biggest challenge in Austria – and this is also the case in the Czech Republic and Slovakia – is the low interest rate environment, which makes it hard to find low volatility investments with decent returns.”

  • Best Private Bank in the Middle East
  • Winner: JPMorgan Private Bank

With its deep research base and global reach, JPMorgan is well positioned to cater to wealthy investors in the Middle East, where geopolitical issues and the decline in oil prices – which have negatively impacted countries’ oil revenues in the region, particularly affecting businesses reliant on government spending – have been a wake-up call for investors. 

“In the past two years, clients have sought to invest a material portion of their wealth internationally, to hedge against oil price fluctuations and other geopolitical concerns,” says Tara Smyth, Middle East market manager at JPMorgan Private Bank. “We have also seen clients continuing to favour a high allocation to private equity and real estate.” 

JPMorgan’s alternative investment platform, with $172bn in assets under management and a team of more than 100 professionals, provides clients with selected private equity and real estate managers. 

The global bank, which sources the large majority of its $425bn client assets from ultra-high-net-worth individuals, enjoyed $11bn in net new money during 2015. 

This positive result was also fuelled by product innovation, with 20 new alternative investment opportunities launched in 2015. These included thematic managed solutions, which grew to $37bn from $2bn at their inception in 2010, and are particularly appealing to business owners, who are at the centre of innovation within their respective industries, says Ms Smyth. 

Credit offering in the Middle East has been significantly developed. “We are now able to provide an extensive array of lending solutions to help our clients meet their lending and liquidity requirements, both within and outside of the region,” says Ms Smyth.

Sticking to a long-term investment plan is critical when building out their portfolios, particularly in the current uncertain environment. “There has been a lot of noise, both from a markets and a geopolitical perspective, which can cause investors to pause. One of the things I’m most proud of has been our ability to keep clients focused on the long term,” says Kelly Coffey, JPMorgan’s US private bank CEO. “The worst thing you can do is to over-react to the news of the day,” she adds, explaining that missing the 40 best days out of the approximately 7000 days of market activity during the past 27 years would mean annual compound returns reduced by 790 basis points.

  • Best Private Bank in the US
  • Best Initiative of the Year in Relationship Management Technology
  • Winner: Northern Trust

One of the highlights of 2015 for Northern Trust, which has 55 offices across the US overseeing $227bn of private client assets, has been a series of enhancements to its pioneering Goals Driven Wealth Management solutions. The bank describes this as a “significant pivot” away from traditional approaches to portfolio management.

The difference is that the asset allocation process is actually defined by customers’ goals, rather than just purely from the investment team’s recommendations. This process goes well beyond a goals-based questionnaire sitting atop a convention asset allocation process, says the bank.

The Northern Trust approach is designed to allow advisers to have richer conversations with clients, giving them an understanding of whether their assets will prove sufficient to funds their goals and provide a definitive framework with which to address any excesses or shortfalls. A mobile goals platform has been developed by the bank to give advisers access to real-time information in client meetings.

“We believe the most important ingredient to provide outstanding service to ultra-high-net-worth families is the combination of both human advice and advanced technology,” says Steven Fradkin, president of Northern Trust Wealth Management.

“Service excellence is not an either/or proposition between human expertise and technological enablement. It is, rather, the integration of these different mediums, and aligning them with how each client prefers to work with us; that is the art of our business.” 

The belief at Northern Trust is that with ultra-high-net-worth clients, there is a continuing need for human, personalised advice and analysis because of the intricate and ever changing complexities and interdependencies involved with estate planning, charitable giving, tax planning and other factors. 

“It is also imperative that excellent expert advice be combined with the most advanced technology and delivery,” says Mr Fradkin. “Technology must be harnessed across a continuum of client needs ranging from goals-driven planning, reporting, risk management, e-signature fulfilment and more, and must be provided in a seamless manner.” 

While he expects technology to continue to help clients and increase the bank’s efficiency, there is no expectation that this will lead to a reduction in wealth advisers, given the complexities of wealth management. Also the ongoing growth means that hiring will continue. 

  • Best Private Bank in Latin America
  • Best Private Bank in Brazil
  • Winner: Itaú Private Bank

Despite the challenging economic and political environment in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, its largest economy, Itaú Private Bank attracted 140% growth in net new money last year, 18bn reais ($5.7bn), boosting total client assets to 267bn reais. 

The winner of our country and regional awards for several years, the Brazilian institution remains the best capitalised bank in its home country, and a top regional player in technology, products and advisory services, according to our panel of judges.

The bank’s net profits increased 15% too, although high interest rates and high inflation drove most of its net new money into inflation-linked instruments and conservative solutions, such as government bonds. 

“From a margin prospective these are less profitable products, but we have a very sustainable operation, with very solid net income,” says Flavio Souza, CEO at Itaú Wealth Management Services. “It is also very important to take care of the profit and loss and manage costs.” 

Positive results were also favoured by the withdrawal from the region, or reduced Latin American focus, of several global banks, due to their lack of scale and costs associated with increased regulatory compliance. 

This gave the bank, perceived as a ‘safe haven’, the opportunity to serve new clients, says Mr Souza. “Also, Itaú has a very well-defined strategy and a strong ability to generate new clients, leveraging all business areas of the bank,” he says.

Itaú Private Bank has almost 28% of the market share in Brazil, which represents 40% of the Latin American wealth management business. After the merger with CorpBanca in 2014, Chile and Colombia represent a key focus for the bank’s wealth management growth.

Offering a global platform of products and services is becoming increasingly important, says Mr Souza, who views tax amnesty programmes in the region as “a very positive development for the industry.” 

“Domestic markets are not big or sophisticated enough to give wealthy clients, especially the ultra-wealthy, sufficient alternatives to build a diversified portfolio,” he adds. In the region, although to a lesser extent in Brazil, cash and deposits represent about 40% of wealthy clients’ portfolios, he reports.

  • Best Private Bank in China
  • Winner: China Merchants Bank

China Merchants Bank (CMB) was one of the first commercial banks in China to move into the private banking space.

The bank launched its first private banking-dedicated branch in Shenzhen in 2007. Since then, it has opened 24 private banking centres in China’s main cities and a number of offices in other locations across the country. It serves a wide range of customers, including businesses, families, individuals and investors, with assets of more than Rmb10m ($1.5m).

Over the past eight years, CMB has focused on establishing itself as a leading player in the domestic private banking sector by developing and expanding its product offering and asset management capabilities. These include market research, investment strategies, product selection, and performance tracking and surveillance.

CMB launched its family office business in 2012, offering services such as family trusts, tax planning, corporate finance and offshore financial solutions. In 2013, the bank added a wealth inheritance service, to provide high-net-worth families with wealth protection solutions and inheritance plans. 

More recently, CMB launched its discretionary accounts service, offering tailor-made investment solutions that take into account clients’ risk appetite, expected return, liquidity and preferred field of investment. 

“We will keep upgrading and expanding our open architecture platform, and consolidating our absolute advantage in serving high-end clients by promoting our family office services,” says general manager Wang Jing. The bank also plans to continue developing discretionary accounts and cross-border financial services. 

  • Best Private Bank in India
  • Winner: Kotak Wealth Management

In April 2015, ING Vysya Bank merged with Kotak Mahindra Bank. The combined entity has a strong presence in India, with some 1300 branches across the country.

Private banking services are offered through Kotak Wealth Management, providing a vast range of financial advice to some of India’s wealthiest families. The firm has recently changed its business model, moving away from a transaction-oriented approach, to an advisory approach. 

According to Jaideep Hansraj, head of wealth management and priority banking at Kotak Wealth Management, the advisory approach has helped remove any doubt in the client’s mind about potential conflicts of interest, thus “attracting new clients, and increasing our wallet share from our existing client base”. The introduction of a fixed advisory fee has allowed Kotak to maintain revenues in an environment of increased allocation to lower margin asset classes.

Kotak’s offerings are based on the pillars of asset allocation, open architecture and alignment of interests with the client. “With our open architecture approach, we are adding best performing industry products and fund managers to our product suite, to widen it so as to offer an unique product proposition to each client based on their individual needs and preferences,” says Mr Hansraj.

The bank has recently upgraded its management information and portfolio reporting systems to enable clients to view their transactions online, and get consolidated reports at an individual and family level. Improving client-facing technology, such as mobile apps and relationship management systems, will remain a main focus for the bank in the near future. 

  • Best Private Bank in Russia
  • Best Private Bank in Qatar
  • Winner: Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse has built up a strong presence in Russia since establishing onshore operations there in 1993. It has a particular focus on entrepreneurs, who benefit greatly from the huge size of the group as a whole. For example, the investment banking unit provides financial advisory and capital-raising services, as well as sales and trading services, including block trading on the Moscow exchange.

“The main challenge our Russian clients face is the changing regulatory environment, with a number of new regulations and legal amendments requiring adaptation to the new standards, as well as the current international sanctions environment,” says Robert Cielen, head of emerging Europe at Credit Suisse. “The country is experiencing an economic recession, with a devaluation of Russian currency and a decrease in oil prices.”

For private clients in Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries, Bruno Daher, CEO of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Credit Suisse, thinks that life is getting more complicated for the wealthiest clients – and the bank is responding accordingly. “Clients from the higher private banking segment in these markets increasingly require close support and advice on complex situations,” he says. “We address their needs by offering an integrated approach: onshore and offshore solutions and coverage, comprehensive use of both sides of the balance sheet, and integrated bank solutions. Furthermore, these clients are looking to diversify their businesses into other areas to ensure growth, sustainability and wealth for generations to come.”

Eleven percent of the group’s total private client assets under management of SFr681bn ($696.7bn) is accounted for by clients in the Middle East and Africa. 

Bearing in mind the needs of Middle Eastern clients, the private bank has a special strategic asset allocation for this group. “It differs from that of a European client as the investment allocation for the different asset classes reflects more accurately the risk appetite and return expectations of a Middle Eastern client,” says Mr Daher. “For example, a Middle Eastern fixed-income investor would be more inclined to have a significantly higher allocation to emerging market bonds than a European fixed-income investor.”

  • Best Private Bank in Australia
  • Winner: Westpac Private Bank

Westpac Private Bank is part of BT Financial Group – the wealth management arm of the Westpac Group, which is Australia’s oldest company and bank, turning 200 years old next year. 

The private bank, which manages $37.7bn, claims it has achieved growth through the execution of its mantra “growth = frequency of client contact x value of the interaction”. In 2015, net new money grew by A$2.2bn ($1.7bn) and the number of private clients increased by 7%, passing the 10,000 mark. 

The bank, which wins the accolade for the second year in a row, has further developed its direct wealth investment capabilities for self-directed clients, who represent more than two-thirds of its client base. Last year it launched a number of innovative multi-currency and multi-asset investment solutions, underpinned by a thematic investment approach. 

“A key growth driver for private banking is our ability to provide clients with access to high-quality global wholesale and institutional solutions, which fit a wide range of risk-reward profiles, backed by a thematic-led, high conviction investment process,” says Jane Watts, general manager of BT Private Wealth. “This allows clients to invest within thematic areas that resonate with them.”

Westpac has also continued to invest in technology and build out digital capabilities to enhance client experience. For example, high-net-worth individuals can now access their holdings, transactions and balances on a responsive mobile portal. Also, last year it was the first bank in the world to deliver fingerprint login ‘touch ID’ banking, allowing clients to take a photo of their card to activate it.

The Asian wealthy have been and will continue to be the biggest growth client segment for the Australian bank. “By building out strong relationships via our multi-lingual Asian private bankers, we are earning trust in this critical growth market,” says Ms Watts.

The bank has increased support to ultra-high-net-worth clients, and has lowered the ratio of clients per relationship manager to 50:1. 

“The ultra-high-net-worth and family office space is where there are the largest relationships by revenue and thus present opportunities on both sides of the balance sheet,” says Ms Watts. “Today’s high-net-worth individuals are tomorrow’s ultra-high-net-worth individuals; there needs to be a simultaneous development of both segments.” 

  • Best Private Bank in New Zealand
  • Winner: BNZ Private Bank

Strategic initiatives that freed up bankers’ time and released capacity through the simplification of back-office processes have helped to drive growth at BNZ Private Bank. 

In 2015, bankers wrote almost twice as many financial plans as the previous year, a large portion of which were then converted into new business, explains Donna Nicolof, head of BNZ Wealth & Private Bank. 

As a result, client assets rose 5% to NZ$5.4bn ($3.9bn) and net new money almost doubled to NZ$600m.

What also paid off was a strategy aimed at encouraging referrals to the private bank within the wider BNZ Partners network. This incorporates the private bank and the institutional, commercial, corporate, property and agribusiness divisions. During the year, there were more than 2000 referrals to private bankers from staff at BNZ Partners.

BNZ also refined its distribution model and invested in people, expanding in key growth areas such as Auckland, recognising demographic trends. Net migration to New Zealand is now at a record high.

Last year, BNZ’s retail wealth business unit, targeting individuals with investable assets of between $100,000 and $1m, was fully integrated into BNZ Private Bank. This move is expected to create a pipeline of future clients for the private bank.

Late in 2015, BNZ Private Bank created a dedicated team to serve family offices, recognising the growth potential of this client segment. 

“We’re seeing a growing number of business owners in New Zealand selling either to private equity or overseas interests,” says Ms Nicolof. “These people have created wealth by establishing and leading successful businesses, and are now looking for advice on how to optimise their financial situation and leave a positive legacy, both for their families and the community.”

New Zealand is attracting more and more ultra-high-net-worth individuals from overseas who want to make the country home for themselves, their families and their businesses, she explains.

 “Formalising our offer also gives us a distinct point of difference from our competitors, and a first-to-market opportunity,” says Ms Nicolof. 

  • Best Private Bank in Hong Kong
  • Winner: HSBC Private Bank

Its deep-rooted history and connection to Asia is what differentiates HSBC from its competitors, as the bank was founded in Hong Kong more than 150 years ago, to finance the growing trade between China and Europe, and was the first locally owned and locally managed bank.

“HSBC’s focus as a group continues to be Asia-Pacific, particularly to support the increasing wealth and demand for private banking services in the Pearl River Delta,” says Bernard Rennell, regional head of global private banking, Asia-Pacific, at HSBC Private Bank. 

This region of mainland China, once a hub for low-value-added manufacturing, is rapidly becoming a centre for high-tech manufacturing and services.

However, growing wealth is not just a product of economic growth, but also a result of an increasing number of entrepreneurs, looking for a banking partner that can support their corporate, investment and private banking needs, according to Mr Rennell.

“Many of our clients are entrepreneurs who founded their own businesses and accumulated personal wealth over time, with some also having realised significant wealth from recent major liquidity events, such as initial public offerings or the sale of their existing businesses,” he says.

As a result, HSBC Private Bank’s growth strategy is geared towards serving existing clients “more effectively”, across their full range of needs. The bank can support their banking needs from Hong Kong to more than 70 countries and territories around the world. And the private bank’s 70-year old private wealth solutions business provides wealth structuring, succession planning, family governance and philanthropy advisory services. Clients also benefit from the “world’s largest trust and fiduciary services businesses”.

“Rather than working with multiple banks across different countries for their business, entrepreneurs want to simplify their banking relationship,” says Mr Rennell. “They want a banking partner that can support all their corporate, investment and private banking needs.”

HSBC Private Bank has rolled out an enhanced investment service in recent years, where the core analysis of each client’s asset and liability management requirements is matched with a core and satellite strategic asset allocation. This would allow a more holistic view of clients’ accounts, meet their investment objectives and reduce portfolio risk. 

The bank adopts an open architecture approach, also working in close collaboration with HSBC Asset Management, and its long-running and large multi-manager programme. The private bank’s HSBC Alternatives Investment Group provides hedge funds, private equity and real estate solutions. 

Client assets managed globally by HSBC Private Bank – whose reputation last year was dented by the Swiss bank tax evasion scandal dating back to the years up to 2007 – decreased by $16bn in 2015 to $349bn. 

In Asia, however, assets under management remained flat at $112bn, and more than 50% of its global profit was generated in Hong Kong.

  • Best Private Bank in Singapore
  • Best Private Bank for Innovation
  • Winner: DBS Bank

Led by charismatic private banking CEO Su Shan Tan, backed up by operations and ‘technology czar’ Olivier Crespin, Singapore’s DBS Bank has cemented its place as one of the leading innovators in the fast-moving Asian regional market.

Having recently absorbed the Asian Société Générale franchise, DBS figures show that the bank has now been delivering consistent double digit private banking growth since 2011, fuelled by both new clients and the ultra-high-net-worth client segment.

Crucial to this vision is the bank’s digitalisation programme, which is at the core of the DBS growth strategy. This has included upgrading of the iWealth online platform available in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Indonesia and India, to improve clients’ experience, but also to engage them more online and to increase the amount of transactions and interaction they are having with the bank.

The bank also hopes to increase cost savings by spreading expenses across a much wider pool of clients and enhancing its penetration of straight-through processing.

A special project of ‘RM Mobility’ involves ‘empowering’ the bank’s front-line sales force, allowing them to become truly mobile across the region and less confined to their offices. This involves connecting with clients via an app through the portfolio management process as well as the initial prospecting and onboarding stages, using human-centred design principles, with feedback from bank customers and staff.

  • Best Private Bank in Malaysia
  • Best Private Bank for Islamic Services
  • Winner: Maybank

Maybank is present in all 10 Association of South-east Asian Nations countries and provides wealth management services to its affluent and high-net-worth clientele through its Premier and Private Wealth segments. 

The bank has dedicated significant resources to further develop its high-net-worth business, improving their value proposition, service standards and geographical reach. As a result, the business grew steadily in 2015.

“There are several pillars that contributed to our growth in 2015. However, it all centres around placing our clients’ needs and interests first,” says Alvin Lee, head of group wealth management. “Private banking is not just about having the best-in-class products, but importantly, building a long-standing relationship of trust and bringing value to our clients.”

In 2015, the bank launched discretionary portfolio management in Singapore and Lombard Financing in Malaysia. “In the current low-interest-rate environment, access to financing and leverage options can potentially create better investment opportunities and returns across clients’ range of risk appetites. Lombard Financing is such an option,” he says.

Its geographical footprint was expanded with two new private wealth centres in Malaysia, and a booking centre in Hong Kong to connect investment and business interests of high-net-worth individuals in Greater China, to opportunities the bank’s key markets. The group also opened an office in London to service its clients’ UK property financing needs. 

Testament to its commitment to its local clientele, Maybank has dedicated significant resources to developing its sharia-compliant offerings. Last year, the group launched its SCOE (Sharia Centre of Excellence) and SCOE ‘Virtual Centre’ in February 2015, as they strive to become a global reference point on sharia knowledge and best practices. 

“Of course, our pursuit to strengthen the business does not stop here. As we navigate through these challenging market conditions, we continue to build infrastructure and ensure that our service and delivery are consistent with clients’ evolving needs,” says Mr Lee. 

  • Best Private Bank in Indonesia
  • Winner: Bank Mandiri Wealth Management

Mandiri Wealth Management is well known in Indonesia for its brand name, Mandiri Prioritas. Established in 2002, Mandiri Prioritas is now one of the fastest growing priority banking services in the country, serving more than 43,000 customers. 

In addition to banking services, the bank offers a wide range of investment products to its clients. Over the years, it has developed partnerships with nine leading investment managers with more than 40 mutual fund products on offer. 

Recently, Mandiri Prioritas expanded its offering by developing a private banking service, Mandiri Private, aimed at customers with more than Rp20bn ($1.5m) placed in the bank. The bank is now introducing new branding for its private banking business, to differentiate it from other business segments when communicating with existing and prospective clients.

Formal, non-digital communications are still an important part of the way the bank stays in contact with its clients. However, and as part of their client relationship strategy, there is an increasing focus on digital communications via the website, SMS and e-mail. In the near future, market updates will also be offered through an online portal specifically designed for private banking customers.

Mandiri also plans to equip all its private banking relationship managers with a tablet application, enabling them to show a specific portfolio simulation to customers face to face or via other channels. 

  • Best Private Bank in Korea
  • Winner: Shinhan PWM

As the number of high-net-worth individuals in South Korea continues to rise – reaching almost 193,000, according to Capgemini – they are having to contend with historically low interest rates, the economic slowdown in China and worries over the state of the global economy. This combination of a rising client base and a volatile investment climate should prove to be an ideal environment for the continued evolution of the wealth management industry in the country.

The South Korean wealth management scene is dominated by domestic firms. “Foreign banks did enter the Korean wealth management arena, but due to their limited understanding of the market, they were unable to solidify their position,” says Samuel Do, manager of the wealth management department at Shinhan, which has won this award for the third year running.

Competition among the local firms is hotting up though, with many local institutions starting to offer wealth management services as an important revenue pipeline. Shinhan continues to expand its offering, opening 16 private wealth management lounges in 2015. Situated across the country, these provide products and asset management services to its affluent customers and their number is expected to rise to more than 100 by the end of 2016.

The bank’s number of private clients rose by 16.7% in 2015 to reach almost 8500, with assets under management up by nearly 20%.

South Korean high-net-worth individuals tend to invest heavily in real estate, though there are signs that they are starting to expand their investment horizons, which could become a key differentiator between wealth managers, according to Mr Do. “As interest rates remain at record lows, our clients’ needs will grow and competition among banking institutions that offer wealth management will become fiercer.”

The bank is also starting to target overseas clients, with its global specialised private wealth management channels in Seoul and Jeju acting as beachheads for overseas high-net-worth individuals. 

  • Best Private Bank in Taiwan
  • Winner: CTBC Bank

CTBC Bank has seen tremendous growth in the number of private banking clients in the past couple of years. This partly reflects a growth in the Taiwanese market itself. “The number of high-net-worth individuals is growing, which means the private clients market base is flourishing and opportunities keep growing,” says the bank. 

However, CTBC also holds the largest share of this market – capitalising on a mixture of tech knowhow and face-to-face customer service. An example of the former is its new digital model that leverages big data and the analysis of individual customers to improve the customer experience. An example of the latter is its grand wine-tasting event of December 2015 – the bank remembers the importance of tangible interaction between client and relationship manager at a personal, social level. 

CTBC’s Family Membership scheme, launched in 2013, has proved popular, attracting more than 7000 clients, with slightly higher average assets under management than the overall average. “CTBC launched Family Membership because of Taiwan’s ageing issue,” says the bank, which notes that about 30% of its high-net-worth clients are more than 60 years old. 

“Clients always talk about how and when to transfer wealth to the next generation. However, customer surveys show that high-net-worth individuals cannot handle succession well due to the complexities of tax and fairness in allocation, though they are aware of these issues,” the bank says. 

CTBC has also done a good job in managing the risks of its customers – who “pay more attention to risk control than asset appreciation”, according to the bank. In 2015, prompted by the Greek debt crisis, it launched a market risk pre-alert model, which leveraged big data to analyse the customers likely to be impacted most critically. Consequently, almost 2000 first-priority high-net-worth individuals were selected and given asset reallocation advice. The vast bulk of these customers changed their asset allocations as a result.

  • Best Private Bank in Thailand
  • Winner: Kasikornbank PCL

Kasikornbank Private Banking, the biggest wealth manager in Thailand, with 40% penetration of high-net-worth customers and assets under management of Bt760bn ($22bn), is acutely aware of the challenges of private banking in what Jirawat Supornpaibul, the CEO of the Thai banking group’s private banking division, refers to as a “pre-mature market”. 

“We believe that the key challenge of customers in Thailand is the background of investment knowledge,” he says. “The majority of our clients are not familiar with financial investment, and especially with sophisticated investment products,” he explains. 

“In order to gain trust, therefore, we should start the relationship with knowledge sharing and market education.” 

As well as advice from private bankers, this includes financial forums and a digital channel called Line. Mr Supornpaibul justifies this by saying: “Understanding leads to investment. Investment experiences make people familiar and more willing to invest in more sophisticated financial products.”

Kasikornbank has also benefited greatly, both in terms of brand and in concrete improvements, from its partnership with the Swiss bank Lombard Odier. In line with the 2014 agreement, Lombard Odier manages global investment funds on behalf of Kasikornbank’s private clients in return for a management fee. Moreover, Kasikornbank refers high-net-worth private clients to Lombard Odier, where appropriate, while the Swiss firm provides advisory training for the Thai bank’s relationship managers and financial advisers.

“We cannot deny the fact that the leverage from the partnership with Lombard Odier has enhanced our capabilities in many aspects,” says Mr Supornpaibul. “It could be said that the primary benefit is the knowledge sharing. Since we started developing the partnership, Lombard Odier has transferred to us its long-accumulated experience in global private banking services.” 

However, he also thinks the expansion of Kasikornbank’s product range has been extremely helpful: for example, Lombard Odier manages the K Strategic Global Multi-Asset Fund, the first risk-based asset allocation fund to be launched in the country.

  • Best Private Bank in Canada
  • Winner: RBC Wealth Management

With C$559bn ($422bn) in assets under management, RBC Wealth Management has a dominant presence in the domestic market and a strong service proposition, as shown by winning this accolade for the fifth year in a row. Working closely with the private and commercial banking divisions of RBC Royal Bank, RBC Wealth Management aims to deliver integrated banking, credit and wealth management services to wealthy individuals and their businesses. 

“The scale, financial strength and resources available to RBC Wealth Management from across RBC are unparalleled among Canadian financial institutions and represent a significant advantage compared with many of our US competitors,” says Doug Guzman, group head at RBC Wealth Management and RBC Insurance.

The bank, which also has a presence in the UK, the Channel Islands and Asia, last year strengthened its presence in the US, “its second home market” according to Mr Guzman, by acquiring City National Bank (CNB). The domestic bank is focused on serving high-net-worth and commercial clients in growth markets such as New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. 

“CNB adds strong private and commercial banking capabilities to our wealth management offering,” says Mr Guzman.

With a strong focus on entrepreneurs and business owners, RBC offers a variety of products enabling them to leverage their wealth for capital injections, acquisitions or other opportunities. High-net-worth clients, who often have unique lending needs and credit profiles, are now also benefiting from CNB mortgage products, commercial loans, commercial real estate loans and personal loans, according to Mr Guzman. 

The bank places particular emphasis on the “emotional aspects” of customer service and invests significant time, effort and training to ensure that advisers deliver on “intangibles” such as making sure clients feel their interests are being cared for, their needs understood and the advice they receive tailored to their needs. 

At the same time, it continues to invest in technology and digital capabilities. Last year it launched a web-based, user-friendly tool, myGPS, which was rolled out across Canada and the US with the purpose of allowing for “more meaningful, interactive conversations” between adviser and client on each client’s goals, priorities and solutions.

  • Best Private Bank in Bermuda
  • Best Private Bank in the Cayman Islands
  • Winner: Butterfield Bank

Butterfield Bank, a private bank initially established in Bermuda in 1858, became the largest domestic provider of wealth management and trust services in the Bermuda market in May 2016, after completing the acquisition of Bermuda Trust Company and the private banking investment management business of HSBC in the country. It had already consolidated its position in the Cayman Islands in 2014 by acquiring select banking relationships from HSBC when that bank exited the Cayman market. 

Within private banking, the primary focus is on locally based high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients, rather than on serving as an offshore bank for international customers. Reflecting the particularities of the market in Bermuda and the Caymans, the client base is segmented into different categories based on occupation type: corporate/insurance and reinsurance executive, medical professional, entrepreneurial, and professional. Each category receives specialised advice and has specialist products dedicated to it. 

To give an example, for professional clients, private banking services are offered in combination with select corporate lending and merchant services solutions to expedite and simplify the process of arranging partnership loans and establishing payment and cash management solutions for new professional practices. 

Curtis Dickinson, who became group head of private banking in 2016, adds: “Segmenting clients by their occupation enables us to assign private bankers with distinctive skill sets, experience and availability to suit the needs of the client.”

Butterfield emphasises the importance of what it calls “regular face-to-face interaction” with clients more than many private banks. “This allows us to get to know them better, and is the foundation for developing a long-term, trusting professional relationship,” says Mr Dickinson. “We consider face-to-face interactions to be part of our ‘high touch’ personal service, which is a differentiator for us, and which has been behind many client referrals of new business.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Mexico
  • Winner: BBVA Bancomer Banca Privada

For BBVA Bancomer Private Bank, part of Spain’s BBVA group, 2015 saw the consolidation of a number of projects related to the expansion of its business, both in terms of services and geographical footprint. During the course of the year, the bank managed to grow its top and bottom lines, as well as its market share in Mexico’s private banking sector.

BBVA Bancomer prides itself on its approach to customer services, based around its servicing franchise ‘Experiencia Unica’. Launched in 2013, the methodology is aimed at strengthening the customer experience by standardising the way private banking advisers interact with clients, thus ensuring they all receive the same quality of service, regardless of their location.

Last year, Experiencia Unica was introduced across the bank’s ultra-high-net-worth branches. The ultra-high-net-worth segment is becoming increasingly important for the business and last year it opened a new dedicated office in Monterrey, to reach the growing number of ultra-high-net-worth clients across Mexico’s northern regions.

The investment process is executed by a team with long experience in the wealth management sector who define tailor-made investment strategies according to their clients’ volatility, risk aversion and capital needs.

In 2015, BBVA Bancomer expanded its product offering to include a wider range of mutual funds and structured products. In response to demand for more diversified and sophisticated investments, the bank launched three new sub-advised funds, investing in commodities, market-neutral equity and derivatives.

Recognising the importance of servicing clients through their families, BBVA Bancomer runs a number of educational programmes aimed at their clients’ offspring. Last year, the bank ran three of these courses in collaboration with several prestigious schools, where the younger generations had to opportunity to network and learn about topics related to wealth management. 

  • Best Private Bank in Chile
  • Winner: LarrainVial

LarrainVial offers private banking services to clients with asset of more than $1m. During 2015, the bank’s main strategy focused on growing its assets under management and attracting new talent, at a time when the Chilean wealth management industry was weakened by global market volatility.

“We managed to attract many experienced bankers, dedicated to bringing new clients and their assets,” says Gonzalo Córdova, LarrainVial’s head of wealth management. 

The introduction of new products, especially those oriented towards alternative investments, also resulted in new inflows of client assets. “We have been aggressively expanding our product offering in alternative investments, mainly through private equity – including co-investments or funds of funds – and other products that are not as liquid as other more traditional instruments, but offer higher profitability,” adds Mr Córdova.

The move towards alternatives involved working closely with other areas of LarrainVial, such as its corporate finance division and its private equity subsidiary Activa.

LarrainVial also launched an active portfolio management service called Cuenta Activa, especially designed for clients wishing to delegate the management of their investments to the bank’s team of experts.

Another innovation was the creation of local tax-efficient investment vehicles, in response to Chile’s latest tax reform. “These instruments are tailored to the new requirements introduced by this reform, something of great use for our clients,” says Mr Córdova.

Looking ahead, the bank is keen on rekindling client interest in hedge funds, not just through products but also through education about this type of investment. “Hopefully, we can begin introducing them into our recommended portfolios in the future,” adds Mr Córdova.

  • Best Private Bank in Colombia
  • Winner: BTG Pactual

The plunge in oil prices has badly affected the oil-dependent Colombian economy, which has experienced a huge drop in equity markets, a steep rise of interest rates, high inflation and up to 50% currency depreciation. This scenario, combined with political uncertainty and controversial fiscal issues, has posed serious threats to domestic wealth management growth.

To navigate this environment, BTG Pactual has broadened its real asset investment offering launching new solutions uncorrelated with oil prices, and has worked with the group’s investment bank, the largest in Latin America, on merger and acquisition mandates, in order to address refinancing of real assets and take advantage of liquidity events. 

Liquidity events created by raw land and real estate opportunities, as well those created by mergers and acquisitions, are key growth opportunities for the Colombian wealth management industry. 

“Colombia is an interesting target for many multinational companies and private equity funds and most of the peso-denominated wealth in Colombia is still in real assets,” says Rogerio Pessoa, head of wealth management at BTG Pactual.

Portfolio diversification is key. “The exposure over the past couple of years to dollar assets, underweighting on equities and the search for absolute return allowed our discretionary and large portfolios to post positive returns even in the worst capital market years for peso-denominated assets,” says Mr Pessoa, adding that new regulations and the amnesty process are a huge growth opportunity too.

Colombia and Chile, together with Brazil, are the key focus of the bank’s onshore growth plans, pursued also through acquisitions, mainly on the investment banking side.

For clients’ offshore needs, BTG Pactual has a booking centre in the Cayman Islands and a full-service broker dealer in the US, where clients are served from Miami and New York. 

Having both strong local presence in the region’s main markets and offering clients access to more traditional international booking centres has become increasingly important, says Mr Pessoa. “Clients in the Latin America region are looking for a differentiated product shelf that comprises not only quality locally managed products but also a diverse offering of international assets, ranging from plain-vanilla solutions to a complex line of product and advisory services.” 

The confidence crisis the bank suffered following the arrest of its former CEO last November led to heavy withdrawals of client money and a loss of assets under management for BTG’s asset and wealth management arms. However, the group was able to maintain its solvency by managing its liquidity and selling assets and businesses. In Switzerland, just a few months after acquiring it, BTG Pactual sold BSI bank to EFG, while keeping a significant stake of the combined group, of which it is now the second largest shareholder. 

BTG Pactual’s current assets under management stand at 70bn reais ($21.7bn), down from 84bn reais at the end of 2015. However, the bank has seen positive inflows from the second quarter of this year, as clients returned money and new clients were brought in, according to Mr Pessoa. 

Going forward, a major task will be to integrate the bank’s strong local offices with its growing and broad international platform of products and services, he says. 

  • Best Private Bank in Belgium
  • Winner: KBC Private Banking

KBC Private Banking has won the award for Belgium for the third consecutive year, after two ‘highly commended’ nominations in 2012 and 2013. 

KBC’s approach to private banking is based on a human-on-human omni-channel strategy, in which digital tools are used to facilitate and improve human interaction. For example, the bank has recently introduced a new ‘co-view’ feature to allow private bankers to see the same screen as the client, facilitating remote communications or face-to-face meetings using a tablet or PC. In addition, a new ‘e-proposal’ system enables private bankers to forward investment proposals via KBC Invest, and have them signed digitally.

“That our client-centric, omni-channel approach works is proved by our client satisfaction survey results. Omni-channel clients give KBC a higher net promoter score than single-channel clients who just use their local branch or only bank online,” says Regine Debeuckelaere, KBC’s general manager for wealthy individuals.

KBC has responded to the current market environment by adapting its product offering. In a context of low interest rates, low growth and rising correlation between asset classes, there was a need to extend the classic portfolio composition. The bank adopted a number of strategies aimed at increasing diversification and income, following “a multi-manager, multi-style and multi-vehicle approach”. 

In terms of recent innovations, KBC has started the referral of clients to areas that traditionally have not fallen under the private banking remit, such as non-life insurance and payments. “Specifically, we have assigned insurance experts with upscale expertise to the branches. As the main integrated bank-insurance group in Belgium, clients can get all the services they need from their private banker,” she adds. 

  • Best Private Bank in Germany
  • Winner: Berenberg

Berenberg can trace its roots back to 1590, when the firm was established in Hamburg. It is the oldest owner-managed private bank in Germany and one of the oldest banks in the world. 

The bank has transformed itself into an international advisory firm, and has won the Germany award for five consecutive years.

Over the past few years it has upgraded its core competences, establishing a notable presence in the financial centres of Frankfurt, London, New York and Zurich.

In its 425-year life, Berenberg has learnt that the only constant in private banking is change. “In light of digitalisation, low interest rates and new regulatory requirements, the transformation of private banking as we used to know it has truly just begun,” says Hans-Walter Peters, spokesman for Berenberg’s managing partners. He believes that change brings opportunities for players who “stick to their values and, simultaneously, boldly embrace new possibilities”. 

For Berenberg this means continuous investment in key areas such as quality of service, infrastructure and business expansion.

When it comes to segmenting its clients, Berenberg focuses on the origin of their wealth, as opposed to the size of their assets. The bank has recently launched a centre of competence for entrepreneurs to support this particular client segment by offering specialist advice on issues such as succession planning, ownership and asset protection. 

“Entrepreneurs are often confronted with the interactions between the business and the private sphere. They see company and private assets as one, have little time, want to preserve the achieved assets in the long term, and want to ensure balanced interests in the family,” says Mr Peters, adding the bank has also established similar support platforms for foundations and family offices.

As a direct result of its business expansion strategy, Berenberg reported a record net profit in 2015, rising from €40m in 2014 to €104m in 2015. Assets under management increased by 11% to €40.1bn. In line with the growth of its business, the bank increased the number of employees further, from 1250 to 1330.

  • Best Private Bank in Italy
  • Winner: Banca Generali

In the difficult context of the Italian banking crisis, which is reshaping the sector as institutions struggle with bad debt, and challenging financial markets, the best positioned private bank has been advice-oriented financial advisers network Banca Generali. 

Part of the international insurance and financial firm Generali Group, Banca Generali last year experienced a record growth in net new money of €4.6bn, continuing the positive trend of the previous two years. Positive inflows extended in the first sixth months of 2016, totalling €2.5bn. Its cost-to-income ratio is one of the lowest in the Italian market at 34.7%.

The acquisition of Credit Suisse in Italy in 2013 undoubtedly represented a turning point in Banca Generali’s history, contributing to significantly increasing client assets, while improving people’s perception of the institution as a ‘prime private bank’. 

Assets under management almost doubled over the past three years, growing to more than €43bn at the end of June. Of these, about 60% are sourced from clients with assets with more than €500,000, while the remainder comes from more affluent clients.

“Product and service innovation, as well as investments in technology, are key factors in the success of the firm,” says Gian Maria Mossa, general manager of Banca Generali since 2013. 

The launch in 2015 of a fully dedicated wealth management division – aimed at providing holistic financial planning, ranging from financial advice to real estate advisory, tax optimisation and succession planning – led to a 10% increase in the number of clients, with a growing share of high-net-worth individuals. The new service model, which relies on partnerships with external firms such as PwC and multi-family office Tosetti Value, is also helping the private bank diversify its revenue streams away from financial products management fees, which today represent the majority of its revenues. 

A highly diversified discretionary portfolio management solution designed for large clients attracted €1bn in the few months since its launch last year. The bank’s long-standing open architecture approach benefits from the product and manager selection skills of its asset management division and its subsidiary, BG Investment in Luxembourg, which makes heavy use of sub-advisers to run its products. 

Recruiting new private bankers is also crucial to the bank’s growth strategy, says Mr Mossa, “although the focus is not on quantity, but on quality”.

  • Best Private Bank in Luxembourg
  • Winner: KBL European Private Bankers

As a pan-European private banking group founded in 1949 and operating in 50 cities, KBL European Private Bankers defines itself as “Europe’s only network of boutique private banks”. The institution builds on the heritage and track record of its domestic brands, combining local knowledge with cross-border expertise. 

Client assets grew by more than 8% in 2015 to €49bn reflecting the bank’s plan of a long-term development strategy, pursued through both organic and external growth. 

Over the past 18 months, the bank has deepened its existing footprint in core markets. In Belgium it acquired UBS, where KBL’s Belgian affiliate Puilaetco Dewaay now manages more than €10bn in client assets. In the UK, the group’s UK affiliate, Brown Shipley, purchased Hampton Dean, a chartered independent firm of financial planners, and in the Netherland KBL bought Insinger de Beaufort, with the intention of merging it with the group’s private bank, Theodoor Gilissen.

 “Such external growth accelerates the expansion of assets under management, providing greater scale at a time when that is of special importance in our sector,” says Yves Stein, group CEO at KBL European Private Bankers. “Today, we continue to review additional acquisition opportunities in our core markets, and will seize them when and if conditions are right,” he adds, explaining that the bank’s focus is on providing clients with “proximity, agility and personalised service”. 

KBL’s latest initiatives are clearly directed to enhancing its business model and client service, as needed to compete in the post-private banking secrecy world.

Last year it signed a strategic partnership agreement with Lombard Odier intended to enhance its IT and operations activities. “Moving forward, we will be much better equipped to respond to rapidly evolving client needs, enhancing our ability to meet those requirements in a more international and transparent environment,” says Mr Stein.

It also launched the group’s in-house fund range Richelieu Investment Funds, introducing a single brand for its funds managed by an internal team of multi-local investment specialists. Further investments in the KBL European Private Bankers Group University are aimed at supporting employee development during the ‘transformative period’ for the European private banking sector.

  • Best Private Bank in Monaco
  • Winner: Compagnie Monégasque de Banque

The principality of Monaco is the second smallest state in the world, which explains why Compagnie Monégasque de Banque (CMB) has always serviced the local market, from which it sources more than half of its €9.8bn client assets, alongside offshore clients.

Domestic private banking has thrived to service the growing number of wealthy individuals who have settled in Monaco as well as non-resident clients. 

The absence of direct taxation for Monegasque residents – there are no income, capital gains or wealth taxes – is a key factor that draws in many businesses, investors and private individuals to Monaco, which is a zero-debt country, explains Werner Peyer, the CEO at CMB. 

Political and economic stability, sound public finances, its legal system and the high quality of banking supervision and legislation for data protection are all also important factors in the development of the private banking industry in the country.

“Monaco has the highest level of ultra-high-net-worth individual residents by square kilometre in the world. The key challenge is to deliver the highest quality of services and top quality of expertise and competence to those investors who are multi-banked around the world,” says Mr Peyer. 

“At the same time it provides offshore services to those investors, who seek political and financial stability of their financial centre beyond the fiscal optimisation of the past.” 

CMB claims to have been quick in anticipating the steps the Monaco government took towards full transparency, in line with the global trend, and in preparation for the automatic exchange of tax information. 

The institution increased its competences in asset management, deciding to sub-advise niche asset classes to third-party managers, while offering external funds in open architecture. The bank has also developed a competitive credit policy including real-estate financing in the south of France to cater to wealthy French tax residents. 

Finally, it has revamped its tech platform. However, apart from money transfers, no other instructions are accepted through digital channels, as the bank believes personal contact is key to the quality of relationships.

In addition to French clients, a key client target, the bank sees growth opportunities with non-domiciled US clients and UK residents, who need offshore account solutions. 

  • Best Private Bank in France
  • Best Private Bank in the Netherlands
  • Winner: ABN Amro

Under the stewardship of the affable CEO Jeroen Rijpkema, ABN Amro Private Banking International is renewing its focus on Europe’s heartlands. It has recently integrated its activities in the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey into a single Guernsey office and has obtained a new banking licence in Spain, working with wealthy clients who are resident in the coastal areas in particular. Previously, ABN had to refer these customers to other offices in Europe, but is now able to welcome them into its dedicated branch in Marbella.

ABN has come under some criticism among the private banking community because it has pulled away from the Swiss market, and some Zurich-based consultants feel a true European private bank must have a presence in the Alpine country. But it is a sign of Mr Rijpkema’s confidence in his business plan that he believes in the future of an onshore private banking business model, without the traditional secrecy-led business on which some competitors have previously relied.

Assets managed for private clients have moved up by nearly $10bn in 2015 to nudge the $200bn barrier, although net new money figures are down. The Dutch business remains strong, as does the bank’s Neuflize franchise in France, known for its regional penetration and its targeting of occupation-specific client groups.

The question for most ABN Amro watchers is what will be the effect of last year’s initial public offering in terms of freeing up the bank for further expansion. The Asian business was until recently seen as an experiment, but some recent hires suggest the Dutch bank also means business in an Asian private banking market previously dominated by the Swiss giants.

Portfolio management, headed up by chief investment officer Didier Duret, a big personality and regular on international TV shows, is also a key differentiator for the private banking arm. 

  • Best Private Bank in Denmark
  • Best Private Bank in Norway
  • Winner: Nordea Private Banking

Nordea Private Banking is the largest private bank in the Nordics, offering wealth planning, investment advice and portfolio management services to customers across the region.

Last year, and despite a challenging market environment, the bank saw its business grow across the entire region.

Nordea has focused its strategy on strengthening its value proposition by offering highly customised services to its customers, such as dedicated solutions for entrepreneurs and business owners, succession planning and philanthropy services. 

In Norway, the tailored solutions for business owners and corporates were well received, in particular due to a comprehensive set of services including in-house legal services. At a time of increasing regulatory complexity, Nordea has also entered strategic partnerships with market-leading providers of accounting and audit services.

Offering clients flexibility when it comes to interacting with their private banking advisors is key to the business. “We believe in letting the client decide when, how and where they want to meet us. Our goal is to offer the possibility to do so, ensuring the highest quality of service, regardless of the setting,” says Thorben Sander, head of global private banking. “The relationship between our clients and advisers is at the heart of our business model.” 

The expansion of its digital capabilities is also a main focus for the business. The bank is working on a number of initiatives to target the next generation of customers, and has recently introduced ‘e-branches’ where meetings are held via Skype or over the phone with shared screens.

“We need to make sure that clients do not feel left behind, but also address their justified concerns regarding the evolvement of the traditional adviser-client relationship,” says Mr Sander.

“Our industry presents constant challenges, such as changing consumer preferences, digitalisation and increased regulatory requirements. We believe that the investments we made throughout the past year, put us in a strong position to address these challenges going forward.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Finland
  • Winner: Danske Bank

Danske Bank Finland has had a fight on its hands to differentiate itself from its larger domestic and international competitors in wealth management, but it has acquitted itself remarkably well. 

The bank has a market share of only about 12% in wealth management in the country, behind Nordea and OP, which are able to grab business through their extensive branch networks. Assets under management were €3.7bn in 2015, with 73 staff.

“Compared with our Finnish competitors we are differentiating ourselves by focusing on the higher end client segments and more holistic approach to advisory,” says Kimmo Laaksonen, head of private wealth management at Danske Bank Finland, part of Denmark’s Danske Bank Group. “We have full wealth planning capabilities that take into account all asset classes and the complexities of taxation in order to enable customers to plan their lives ahead.” 

Other complex issues in which his division has sought to make a name for its expertise include wealth planning issues involving company ownership, “and in some cases holdings in several countries”, according to Mr Laaksonen.

So much for the threat within; what about the threat without? “When it comes to global private banks our clear competitive advantage is that we can provide strong local presence and expertise together with digital services that are among the most sophisticated in Europe,” he says. “For example, mobile investment services, online meetings with customers and notifications of important events in their investment portfolios are part of our everyday business.”

Its digital banking solutions include an award-winning mobile bank, a tablet bank, an online meeting solution, peer-to-peer mobile money transfers and Danske Guide, a communication tool for contacting clients with advice and messages through online banking. 

  • Best Private Bank in Sweden
  • Best Private Bank in the Nordics
  • Best Private Bank in the Baltic Countries
  • Winner: SEB Private Banking

SEB Private Banking has performed particularly well in recent years, with a growth in assets under management that partly reflects decent net inflows. 

The bank has shepherded its clients well during the volatile financial markets of recent times – steering clients towards lower risk products. An example of new launches in 2015 is a multi-strategy hedge fund. 

Asked what the biggest issue currently faced by customers is, Martin Gärtner, global head of SEB Private Banking, says: “With the current negative rate environment, the greatest challenge is to maintain or increase returns to clients.” Given this, 2015 saw a focus on increasing the bank’s offering of credit-related funds. 

It has also diversified its product offering. Recent launches include a global environmental, social and governance equity fund that works in line with SEB’s methodology for global stock selection and has received a five-star rating from research and investment management firm Morningstar, and a new SEB private equity fund, Industrial Opportunities, which has proved popular. Other relatively exotic new products include microfinance funds, described by Mr Gärtner as “an interesting product with a clear focus on sustainability and good stable returns”. 

Within its Swedish home market, the bank runs the SEB Private Banking Annual Small and Midcap Event, at which company CEOs in effect pitch their businesses to the bank’s clients. “Profit growth for large Nordic companies has been moderate during the past five years at slightly above 2%; listening to fast-growing companies with bright potential is therefore wildly attractive,” says Mr Gärtner. The 2016 event involved eight companies, each from a different sector, and more than 100 private banking customers. 

“The objective is not solely on stock performance during one year but more on long-term performance,” says Mr Gärtner. He notes that since SEB launched the event eight years ago, some of the companies picked have done extremely well, with a return above 1300% for Vitrolife, which offers products and services for assisted reproduction. 

“In 2015, we continued digitalising parts of the advisory process, and this is being intensified this year,” says Mr Gärtner. 

  • Best Private Bank in Spain
  • Best Private Bank for Use of Technology
  • Winner: BBVA Banca Privada

After years of little progress, with well-resourced US banks standing well above lowly locals, Spain’s home-grown institutions are now revitalised and empowered after the country’s economic crisis. Among those in the vanguard is BBVA Banca Privada, which stresses the notion of client experience above all else, boosted by an ongoing digital transformation.

BBVA was slightly ahead of its rivals as one of Spain’s early movers in digitisation after a whole host of the banking small fry were bought up or collapsed during the crisis.

Part of this sea change has involved the establishment of a data analytics department, devoted to analysing so-called ‘big data’, which is aggregated information collected during every minute of customer transactions, using the skills of top statisticians, mathematicians and data scientists.

“The intensive use of technology allows us to develop a consistent investment process, which offers excellent long-term performance to our clients,” says Jorge Gordo Naveso, director of private banking at BBVA Banca Privada.

The transformation also involves much more user-friendly onboarding services channelled to customers through tablets, smartphones and wearable technology.

One of the client sectors key to the management’s hearts is the family office segment, which presents a whole team of specialists in areas such as credit, tax and portfolio management to each wealthy family client. This initiative incorporates real estate advisory, new generation programmes, business planning and specialisation in areas including art. The range of available investments is also being revitalised, emphasising ‘megatrend funds’, private equity, real estate and corporate finance-led strategies. 

Clients’ focus on real estate has increased hugely over the past three years, during which time they have weighed up growing prices and yields from property investment against negative interest rates offered by banks, according to Mr Gordo Naveso. However he urges them not to get carried away by the euphoria and to maintain exposure to bonds and equities according to recommended risk profiles. Importantly for the bank, a trend among clients to transfer assets abroad and to trust their own financial system less appears to be in reversal following recent political shifts in Spain. 

  • Best Private Bank in Portugal
  • Winner: Millennium BCP

The private banking arm of Millennium BCP, part of Banco Comercial Português, has worked hard in recent years at client acquisition, customer service and efficiency: keeping the cost-to-income ratio “at a level as low as possible”, to use the words of the bank in its awards submission. 

Keeping customers satisfied can be hard given present economic circumstances. “The ultra-low interest rate environment and the instability of the European banking sector are the two key challenges for private clients,” says Vasco Rebello de Andrade, head of private banking at Millennium BCP. “In this environment we continue to search for diversified solutions that may help our clients to preserve and grow their wealth without taking on board unnecessary market or liquidity risks.” 

Mr Rebello de Andrade emphasises the need to devise strategies that stay within clients’ quite limited risk parameters. “Portuguese clients are risk averse, so they tend to show clear preference for bonds over equities and for euro-denominated assets over any other,” he says.

Having said that, their preferences are changing somewhat – and the bank has been striving to meet these subtle alterations. Mr Rebello de Andrade notes that although euro-denominated assets are the dominant part of their portfolios, regional and currency diversification has been growing over the past few years.

In common with all private banks, however, Millennium BCP has been working to counter the perennial habit among wealthy clients of keeping an excessively large amount of their money in extremely low-yielding cash – a habit which not only hits the overall returns of clients, but is also bad for private banks, since most of it does not earn management fees. 

One of the bank’s recent priorities has been, as the bank’s submission puts it: “Maximising the operation’s profitability by gradually shifting the clients’ product mix from term deposits (which generate low and continuously decreasing financial margins) to third-party asset management products (which generate higher income through distribution and service fees) or tailor-made structured products (which allow a pre-definition of the bank’s margin at acceptable levels).”

  • Best Private Bank in Greece
  • Winner: Eurobank

Capital control restrictions coupled with high cash burn, mainly over new taxes, leave little room for growth in the domestic market, according to Alexander Tsourinakis, deputy general manager, head of private banking for Greece, at Eurobank. 

Growth is expected to come mainly from inflows of Greek accounts abroad, through the bank’s Luxembourg subsidiary. The bank, which also offers wealth management services in London and Cyprus, experienced positive net new money in 2015 – €200m – but its assets under management have dropped by €900m to €5.6bn.

However, despite capital controls, which were substantially eased in August more than a year after they were imposed, investment management is largely unhampered for both local and global assets, according to Mr Tsourinakis. “This has removed a major hurdle in running local portfolios, gradually re-establishing investors’ trust in the banking system,” he says.

There has also been a gradual return of liquidity to Greek banks, which signals a cautious return to normality and reflects the fact that balance sheets are currently very well capitalised, he observes.

Eurobank Private Banking has continued to develop its product range in open architecture, also enhancing the breadth of its advisory services, particularly focusing on family office services, account consolidation and ‘virtual advisory’. The latter enables clients to have a more complete view of their investments worldwide. 

The institution aims at offering its predominantly Greek wealthy clientele a “very personalised experience”, comparable to that offered by bigger competitors in Europe. 

“In the Greek landscape, competition is not that fierce, so the challenge here is to retain our leadership position and expand our market share even further,” says Mr Tsourinakis.

Improving the customer experience, including “a massive digitalisation push”, is a key area of focus for the future. The bank also wants to further leverage its Luxembourg platform, which is “unique among Greek peers”, and increase its breadth of products and services to meet client needs.

Its biggest source of revenue and profit is today represented by annuity income from sources such as interest income, advisory, fund management and discretionary portfolio fees.

  • Best Private Bank in Cyprus
  • Winner: Bank of Cyprus

The eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has enjoyed something of a transformation since its low point during the financial crisis of 2012 to 2013, when its then outsized banking sector suffered a hangover after focusing on attracting huge deposits from Russian clients.

The two largest Cypriot banks are now privately owned by Western investors, with Bank of Cyprus overseeing assets worth $1.4bn for more than 2000, predominantly onshore, private clients. 

The bank’s management confesses that 2015 was “challenging”, working against a stigma of being the first country to bail in their depositors as part of an EU deal. Their main focus was to rebuild trust with clients and try to consolidate its position as what it calls “the leading financial institution in Cyprus”.

That said, new business is already in the bank’s sights, with an internal market of business introducers including accountants, lawyers and trust advisers, established in Cyprus now for many years. The bank has decided to invest time and resources in renewing these relationships, introducing business referral agreements to provide incentives for intermediaries prepared to direct funds in its direction.

Building on its traditional model of providing banking services coupled with investment advice to its wealthy clientele, Bank of Cyprus plans to increase the importance of asset management services to its business model, in a bid to enhance fee income. This involves the education of not just clients, but also staff on benefits of asset allocation and portfolio diversification.

External consultants have also been hired to improve technological infrastructure, installing a new customer relationship management system for the bank. 

  • Best Private Bank in Andorra
  • Winner: Andbank

Andbank has been busy. In late November 2015, it signed an agreement with Israeli investment boutique Sigma Investment House and also concluded the acquisition of Banco Bracce in Brazil, after formalising a non-binding offer in 2013. With these two operations, the Andbank Group has expanded its presence to 12 countries and increased the number of banking licences to seven.

It is a strategy that is proving profitable, with the International Private Banking division the main engine of the bank’s growth. Andbank Group ended 2015 with €22.8bn in assets under management, of which €17.7bn comes from the international arena. Of the bank’s 1100 employees, just 400 are based in Andorra, the rest in international subsidiaries.

CEO Ricard Tubau is excited by the possibilities the recent expansions have opened up. “Being present in Brazil represents a huge opportunity for future acquisitions in South America which would give added value to our institution,” he says, adding that Andbank’s presence in Spain also provides an “optimum port of entry for obtaining privileged access to Latin America, a region with which it enjoys deeply rooted ties”.

Likewise, the Sigma deal not only gives the bank access to the “outstanding potential” of the Israeli market, but a link to the other Jewish communities located around the world. 

Mr Tubau is keen not to get ahead of himself though. “We have no plans to expand any further in the short term,” he says. “Our main aim is to consolidate our competitive position in the three main markets we entered recently – Spain, Brazil and Israel.” 

  • Best Private Bank in the UK
  • Best Initiative of the Year in Client-facing Technology
  • Best Private Bank for Philanthropy Services
  • Winner: Coutts 

Coutts, the bank to the UK royal family, has refocused its business on UK clients, having sold off its Asian and Swiss private banking arms. Under the stewardship of Peter Flavel, recently recruited as chief executive, the London-based bank is making sure that all the basic building blocks in terms of banking and customer contact are in place before standardising an investment process under chief investment officer Alan Higgins, to make sure the same asset allocation and investment menu is available nationwide. 

Previously, there was an element of each relationship manager having a much larger influence on the portfolios of their private clients. This will no longer be the case under Mr Flavel, who wants to make sure there is no deviation from the process laid down by Mr Higgins and his team of almost 200 investment staff, who have overseen a range of top quartile investment products. Currently a quarter of the £60bn ($73bn) which Coutts’ clients hold with the bank is put to work in investment strategies, but this number is “growing strongly”, says Mr Flavel, and the aim is to make the bank’s investments even more attractive to the clients. 

Another plank of his expansion plan is to expand both the borrowing and investment behaviours of Coutts’ clientele, some of whom are ‘heritage’ investors belonging to blue-blooded landed gentry, but an increasing segment of whom are entertainers, sports people and entrepreneurs. Increasing referrals between retail and commercial bank NatWest and its private sister arm Coutts and collaboration between the two on structuring investments for wealthy entrepreneurs is also part of Mr Flavel’s blueprint. 

Coutts prides itself in targeting clearly defined client groups, including professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, international customers, entertainers, sports people and landowners, and tailoring services to each segment according to their needs and habits. 

Crucial to dealing with some of this younger audience is the bank’s digitisation programme, in which Coutts has so far invested £30m. “We are increasingly delivering much more content through video,” says Mr Flavel. “This is a better and much more efficient way to get out more content to our clients.”

  • Best Private Bank in Croatia
  • Winner: UniCredit

UniCredit CEE Private Banking, part of Italy’s UniCredit banking group, has long had a strong presence in central and eastern Europe, but has built further on that in the past few years. It has, indeed, even accelerated this growth recently: in 2014 it added $900m in net new money, but in 2015 this tipped over the $1bn mark to reach $1.2bn. In the same year it acquired 1370 net new clients in the region, but in the first four months of 2016 it had already nearly equalled that, taking on 1303. 

Jan Tronicek, UniCredit’s head of private banking for central and eastern Europe, attributes this surge to a combination of one-off pushes in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where the bank sought to offer private banking to existing retail customers, and ongoing initiatives throughout the region. 

Notwithstanding these initiatives, within central and eastern Europe the private bank is perhaps most entrenched in Croatia, where Zagrebacka banka, which is owned by the UniCredit Group, holds about one-third of the market. Mr Tronicek credits its success in the country partly to a team that has been “stable for years with a lot of know-how and experience”. The team in Croatia, and elsewhere in the region, benefited from the CEE PB Academy, which trained 296 bankers in 2015, including both newcomers and senior professionals. 

Asked about the biggest challenges facing his customers, Mr Tronicek says: “There is a lot of political risk around. But on the other hand, for most of the region, this is nothing new. I think our clients are used to this. 

“We want to lead our clients to disciplined investing and sufficient diversification. Our central and eastern European private bankers play a pivotal role in this plan.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Romania
  • Winner: Raiffeisen Bank

With a presence in more than 15 countries, Vienna-headquartered Raiffeisen Bank International is one of the major banking groups in central and eastern Europe (CEE) and Russia. 

The bank’s private banking arm, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (FWR), named after the group’s founder, was introduced to the Romanian market in 2012 to cater to local high-net-worth individuals. An initial sales force of six relationship managers was increased to 13 in 2015, with the bank looking to offer customers tailored financial advisory services, based on a guided open architecture framework. 

Back in 2012, 45% of client assets were invested in standard banking deposits but they now tend to have much more diversified and balanced portfolios, in line with their financial goals and risk tolerance. But with interest rates close to zero, a relatively mature bull market in developed equities, an ongoing unwinding of the commodity boom cycle, private investors are having to deal with an extremely difficult investment environment. 

“In this context, we see increased interest from our clients to diversify their portfolios – which currently consist mainly of money market and fixed-income related securities – into multi-asset investment strategies that exhibit some form of capital protection or embed risk control mechanism,” says Romulus Mircea, an investment specialist at FWR Romania.

The bank claims it is able to offer a product range covering all major asset classes, regions and investment strategies, either through the Raiffeisen Group itself or third-party financial institutions, which helps differentiate itself from the local competition.

FWR’s main goal going forward is the continued development of its goal-based advisory model. “We analyse the specific circumstances of each customer – starting from a wide range of needs to be achieved potentially through investment – within a comprehensive investment policy statement, and come up with a holistic portfolio recommendation,” says sales director Andra Ion. 

  • Best Private Bank in Georgia
  • Winner: TBC Bank

For TBC Bank, private banking is all about the combination of old-style relationship management with the new world of digital technology. So while TBC has the largest private banking branch network in Georgia, and offers exclusive lifestyle products and services to its ‘Status’ clients, it is also trying to move more of its clients into digital channels.

“It is clear that clients prefer to use remote channels due to its ease of use and convenience,” says Vazha Beriashvili, deputy retail banking director at TBC, adding that 72% of all customers’ financial transactions are now carried out in this way.

One of the key aspects of moving into digital banking is to make the processes as simple and convenient as possible for clients, he explains. 

“The biggest challenge of creating a digital product is that you have to incorporate customer feedback into the development phase of the product: you have to show them an initial version of the product first, and then constantly tailor it to their needs and preferences. So every digital product that we offer is always a work in progress.”

As Georgia lagged behind the developed markets in terms of usage of digital services in everyday life, it took significant effort to show computer-unfriendly customers, mostly elderly clients, the advantages of digital services, according to Mr Beriashvili. 

“We are following the global trend of mobile-first banking as we seek to make banking digital in Georgia by offering next-generation banking services to our customers,” says TBC Bank CEO Vakhtang Butskhrikidze. “It is clear that the customers increasingly prefer to use remote channels due to its ease of use and convenience, and on our part we continue to focus on delivering the best multi-channel capabilities for them.”

The strategy appears to be working. The number of clients was just shy of 13,000 by the end of May 2016, a 20% rise on the year before.

  • Best Private Bank in Hungary
  • Winner: OTP Private Banking

OTP Private Banking, part of OTP Bank, is present in nine countries across the central and eastern Europe region, managing €4.9bn in client assets. Hungary is by far its largest market, making up 77% of assets under management.

In Hungary, OTP Private Banking enjoyed an above-market-average assets under management growth of 16% in 2015, increasing its market share to 34%. The main driver of growth was net new money generation of new and existing clients. 

“The robust growth of the Hungarian economy created a pretty favourable environment for the wealth market,” says András Takács, managing director, head of wealth and investment management, at OTP Private Banking. “Additionally, relying on our strong brand, we managed to exploit a one-off market situation caused by the wave of bankruptcies of brokerage firms and a struggling banking competition.”

Despite record low interest rates and margins, OTP Private Banking managed to increase its revenues and profitability. “In a region where the current interest rate level couples with extremely low risk-taking capacity of the clientele, the penetration of more complex investment products with higher margins is more limited, thus we had to find more innovative strategic answers to increase efficiency,” says Mr Takács.  

The bank has introduced a package of strategic measures to increase the digital penetration of self-service transaction management, on both the traditional and investment banking sides, freeing up significant adviser capacity. “This has allowed us to rationalise the headcount model, and support our relationship managers to allocate more time to value-added processes,” says Mr Takács.

“In the coming years, we will continue our developments in areas such as digital transactions and investment management, remote advisory, and multi-tier service level differentiation,” he adds.

  • Best Private Bank in the Czech Republic
  • Winner: CSOB Private Banking

While much of Europe has been suffering economically, the story is very different for the Czech capital city of Prague, says Pavel Tichy, head of private banking at CSOB, with Chinese investors leading the way.

“The Chinese are making investments in businesses, industry and football clubs. They see us as an investment hub, a way into the rest of Europe,” says Mr Tichy. “They are buying up businesses due to attractive pricing. In the Czech Republic, it’s a seller’s market and companies are cash rich.”

He talks about a “definite economic prosperity” currently prevailing in his country, with the lowest unemployment in the EU, a scarcity of workers and real wages increasing every quarter, with automotive industries in particular performing well.

“Our recommendation to our clients is to keep calm and keep investing small amounts regularly,” says Mr Tichy, whose bank manages $4.5bn for wealthy investors, who have added $250m of net new money during the past 12 months.

Yet despite this benign economic backdrop, many clients find this sensible advice difficult to follow. “Czechs are always sceptical about the potential of equity markets and bonds,” says Mr Tichy. Everyone who can either invests in property or expands their own business. People are now much more reluctant to sell their business than one year ago.”

Property investment has been boosted by low interest rates and easily accessible financing. “It is so easy and cheap to get credit and loans,” says Mr Tichy. “The market has been flooded with liquidity and capital, with banks pressured by shareholder to deliver profits.”

For the bank’s private clients, the highlight of 2016 was a visit to Prague of Franklin Templeton’s legendary emerging markets investor Mark Mobius. Templeton is a strategic partner of CSOB, one of a handful of big brand fund managers to which client assets are directed, alongside Aberdeen, Fidelity and Allianz. CSOB is also believed to be in discussions with JPMorgan and BlackRock.

“Dr Mobius told our relationship managers and clients to invest if they have the money,” says Mr Tichy, who recommends a 10% to 15% weighting in international equities for Czech high-net-worth clients, who generally opt for US or European shares.

  • Best Private Bank in Slovakia
  • Winner: Tatra Banka

The private banking arm of Tatra Banka, the Slovakian subsidiary of Austria’s Raiffeisen banking group, dominates in its home market, with a 50% share of the wealth management market. Assets under management have risen greatly from about €400m in 2004 to €1.93bn in 2015. During that time, Tatra Banka Private Banking has changed a great deal about itself, from the products it offers to the market it serves. 

Change has been particularly great since 2011, when Tatra Banka implemented a new wealth management business model with three main strands catering to different degrees of risk appetite and different goals. 

The lowest risk portfolio, Wealth Immunisation, is designed for managing retirement assets already in the payout phase, funds earmarked for bequest, or money that needs to be safeguarded to pay out for children’s education. The appropriate strategy for this involves eliminating credit and liquidity risks and inflation protection. 

The Wealth Growth portfolio includes investment strategies that are aimed at delivering real yield and growth of customer assets over time. 

The Wealth Opportunity portfolio, with a recommended maximum 10% share of total assets, consists of higher risk investments drawn from funds available after all the goals in the Wealth Immunisation and Wealth Growth portfolios have been met. 

Innovations such as these have helped the bank to improve its customer satisfaction rating progressively since 2012 according to the industry-wide TRI*M Index for Private Banking – a recovery from a sharp drop in that year, which the bank blames on customer concerns about the tough market situation of the time. 

Private banking has successfully altered its target market recently, weeding out clients below a certain threshold and focusing on acquiring new clients and increasing the assets under management of existing clients. As a result, although the number of private clients has fallen from more than 3200 to 2900 between 2013 and 2015, assets under management have risen by €300m during that time. 

  • Best Private Bank in Poland
  • Winner: mBank

mBank began life more than 30 years ago as Bank Rozwoju Eksportu, changing to its current name in November 2013.

The bank’s private banking arm is working to identify alternatives to deposits, which are not attractive from a revenue point of view either for the bank itself or its customers. In 2015, mBank launched a model advisory scheme aimed at making the role of a client’s personal adviser more relevant. The plan is to allow those customers with a smaller proportion of their assets allocated to investments, rather than on deposits, to test the waters and build up small portfolios. 

The bank is determined to continuously improve the qualifications of its relationship managers, running a programme that prepares its advisers for the European Financial Planner exams. mBank currently employs 58 client-facing staff, servicing just under 6000 private clients.

Potential customers are mainly acquired through recommendations from existing customers, personal contacts of private banking advisers, and marketing and PR activities. In 2015, emphasis was placed on co-operation with the wider mBank group, Poland’s fourth largest bank by customer numbers, to expand its wealth management operations. 

A major challenge for the financial industry in Poland has been the country’s new banking tax, which is calculated on the basis of a bank’s assets. Since mBank’s customers have fewer loans, the impact of this has not been as severe as for some other financial institutions. For example, the banking tax applies also to insurance companies, and has made a number of their products unprofitable. Some decided to withdraw low-margin products from the market, and mBank responded by changing the formula and transforming some of its unit-linked products into investment funds. 

The hope is that in the long run this should have a positive impact on revenues, because the variable costs associated with investment funds in relation to unit links are lower. 

  • Best Private Bank in Turkey
  • Winner: Akbank Private Banking

Akbank was founded as a privately owned commercial bank in Adana in 1948 to provide funding to a local cotton grower. Today, the group has an extensive network of more than 900 branches across Turkey, and provides private banking services from dedicated branches located in the country’s main cities.

According to Didem Bagrıaçık, its private banking senior-vice president, Akbank Private Banking enjoys a market-leading position in the sector, with a successful business model that benchmarks itself against global wealth management firms and private banks. “This sets us apart from our competitors. Our vision is going one step further, to compete with global players with our products and services,” she says.

Akbank focuses on the core values of its target audience and the “emotional benefits” of private banking. It considers personal wealth not as an individual quality belonging purely to the present, but as something that must be expertly managed to ensure its future sustainability. 

With this in mind, the bank launched its Next Generation Programme, in collaboration with Sabancı University. The programme, the first of its kind in the country, aims to educate new generations on subjects such as the responsibility that comes with family wealth, investment diversification, risk management and philanthropy. It also allows the bank to build customer loyalty through generations. “While providing the professional assistance on family wealth and financial solutions, we also strengthen the social bonds with our clients and their families,” says Ms Bagrıaçık.

Akbank Private Banking offers core banking products, along with alternative financial solutions to clients who require a greater level of specialisation. Through AK Asset Management, it also develops customised structured products based on client’s risk appetite and return expectations. 

The bank is currently working on an IT project, PM1, to develop a sophisticated and detailed reporting system that clients can access via mobile and internet banking.

  • Best Private Bank in the United Arab Emirates
  • Winner: National Bank of Abu Dhabi

The National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) Global Private Banking aims to become “the reference private bank for and of the Arab world”.

The bank has won the Best Private Bank in the United Arab Emirates award for five consecutive years. According to Ashraf Mazahreh, NBAD’s managing director and head of private banking, UAE, this recognition is “a testimony to our capabilities and commitment to providing diversified opportunities and innovative tailor-made global investment solutions to our clients”.

Over the past few years, NBAD’s focus has been on key areas such as attracting top talent, expanding its international footprint and developing leading regional and international investment competences. Its global approach is reflected in the unification of private banking business across four geographical areas – the UAE, Egypt, the UK and Switzerland – into one global team.

“NBAD has always taken pride in providing its clients with best-in-class products and wealth solutions, whether it is capital preservation or enhancing investment yields,” says Mr Mazahreh. Recently, and in response to market conditions, the bank has expanded its product offering to include yield-enhancing solutions and specialist funds, both managed in house or by third parties. It has also launched capital-protected investment solutions for clients “keen to minimise downside risk, yet maintain a satisfactory level of exposure to financial markets”.

“Our key strategy will be focused on continuing to build and deliver on our core value proposition, in terms of our offshore booking abilities, regional and international product offering and wealth advisory,” says Mr Mazahreh.

In mid-2016, NBAD announced plans to merge with First Gulf Bank to create the largest bank in the Middle East and north Africa. “This will be a key driver to reinforce our clients’ trust and establish higher standards of excellence in the field of private banking,” says Mr Mazahreh.

  • Best Private Bank in Bahrain
  • Winner: Ahli United Bank BSC

Ahli United Bank (AUB) has 137 branches across Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Oman, Iraq, Libya and the UK. As of December 2015, the bank served 6952 private banking clients, a slight drop on the previous year following AUB’s decision to transfer some individuals to a premium or retail relationship. Assets under management stood at $3.8bn, lower than the previous year, mainly due to the depreciation of sterling and the euro versus the dollar.

In Bahrain itself, however, where AUB has won this award for the third year in a row, the bank saw a 6.5% rise in the number of private clients, while assets under management were also up, by 7.5%.

AUB’s focus in 2015 was on implementing its strategy of “creating value through segmentation”. The bank is placing a special focus on the ultra-high-net-worth segment, and is specifically targeting younger investors in the hope of fostering long-lasting relationships. Products in areas such as sharia-compliant investments, UK commercial real estate and US residential property, as well as in private equity and utilising club structures, were examples of new launches that provide an increasingly diverse range of investment solutions to clients. 

“Our plan for the future is to organically grow the private banking business through increasing our presence in key countries in the region,” says Prakash Mohan, AUB’s group head of corporate banking, highlighting the establishment this year of an operation in the Dubai International Financial Centre. “We are also focused on increasing our share of wallet within the target client base through enhanced relationship management, coupled with ongoing development of our product and service capabilities.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Lebanon
  • Winner: Audi Private Bank

In a region where relationships matter greatly, in business as well as in personal lives, Audi Private Bank, part of Lebanon’s Bank Audi, is rightly proud of the high average tenure of its private bankers, at nine or 10 years. 

“The long tenure of relationship managers at our bank is a great advantage as it ensures continuity in business relationships with the client,” says a spokesperson for the private bank, which has assets worth approximately $2.82bn under management. 

“With time, the relationship manager acquires a deep knowledge of their client, has been aware of their preferences, life stages and changes, and can better serve them in terms of suitability and appropriateness. Also, this makes these relationships smoother, and based on trust and mutual respect and appreciation, which makes communication with our bank much more pleasant and efficient,” adds the spokesperson.

The bank achieves this long tenure through “building long-term relationships with our employees”, according to the spokesperson. Relationship managers are remunerated and rewarded based on stability of assets under management, client loyalty and referrals. “There is a focus on the long term, rather than on specific amounts of yearly commission and fee targets,” adds the spokesperson. 

Home-country clients of Audi Private Bank, which targets customers with between $1m and $20m, face very different challenges from high-net-worth individuals in developed markets, and the bank has responded accordingly. “Given that interest rates are quite high in Lebanon, for both US dollars and Lebanese pounds, it is no surprise that our clients are yield hungry and extremely demanding in terms of income generation,” says the spokesperson. 

“Hybrid bonds have been stellar instruments in our bank. We have thus responded to growing client demand and have created this structure where we have between 20 to 25 single lines of hybrid bonds, targeting a yearly income of about 6%.”

  • Best Private Bank in Egypt
  • Best Private Bank for US Customer Service
  • Best Private Bank for Ultra-High-Net-Worth Clients
  • Winner: Citi Private Bank

Targeted at the wealthiest segment of the world’s population with more than $25m to invest, requiring a ‘high-touch’ relationship, Citi Private Bank is expecting the most significant growth in managed assets to come from Asia. 

“Entrepreneurs are all around the world, there is no shortage of people willing to strike out and we position our brand to help serve them,” says Peter Charrington, global CEO of Citi Private Bank.

He warns the competition, many of whom are selling their franchises and retrenching as national players, that it will be difficult to keep up with the cross-border banks currently making the running.

“A lot of them do not manage their cost-income ratios and they lose focus; we will see this trend continue,” says Mr Charrington, who adds that banks need to define their proposition and explain exactly what they are offering to clients. “People are coming into the industry with high costs and regulation, so they need to be focused on who they are serving in terms of types of clients. If they are trying to be all things to all people, then it’s a very difficult proposition. At Citi Private Bank, we have remained steadfast in our vision, our execution of that vision and the segment of clients we serve. This has benefited us, but most importantly, it has served our clients well,” he says.

Part of the answer to redefining the business model has been judicious use of new technology, and the US bank has been one of the most proactive in rolling out a digital communication channel across the regions where it has strongest penetration. Its ‘Project Sheen’ led to the redesign of the entire customer experience, including receptions and meeting rooms, as well as digital interfaces such as the InView system. 

This process is one of constant re-evaluation and is definitely not static, says Mr Charrington, who chairs a working group that regularly looks at glitches in the system and evaluates customer feedback before making more tweaks to the digital platform. 

Although there was originally talk within Citi about breakneck technological innovation and staying ahead of competitors, the thinking has recently been modified, with the artificial intelligence pioneered by the likes of Singapore’s DBS and the South Korean banks seen as a potential step too far for the wealthiest clients. Mr Charrington is adamant that these people come to his bank for one-to-one advice, which is the key tenet of customer service. 

“We don’t see ultra-high-net-worth investors going for robo-advice,” he says. “Our technology and digital experience is very high quality, but people are still our most important ingredient. The more wealth you have, the more that becomes important. Digital is not the only component.”

In the US, each banker serves just 30 clients. “Our definite aim is to keep this number small,” says Tracey Warson, head of North America at Citi Private Bank. “The more wealth a family has, the more complex the needs are.”

  • Best Private Bank in South Africa
  • Winner: Investec

Beating off competition from the likes of Standard Bank, Nedbank and RMB, Investec showed healthy net new money of $2bn during 2015 to boost managed assets to $29bn, despite an uncertain political and economic climate in South Africa, where it has eight offices.

“Given the current political and economic uncertainty, clients have gravitated towards greater diversification of their portfolios, which Investec is uniquely positioned to assist with,” says Henry Blumenthal, head of Investec Wealth & Investment South Africa.

Investec prides itself in offering clients access to a specialist private banker and investment management expertise, rather than just consulting with one generalist relationship manager. Clients can also call a 24-hour global client support centre. The bank’s digital effort comprises the Investec Online channel plus mobile and tablet apps. 

Key features include the Online Portfolio Manager system, which allows self-directed clients to make investments electronically, define their investment objectives, compare performance and invest in a managed share portfolio, locally or internationally. Enhancements introduced during 2016 include simplified payment screens, allowing clients to make payments directly from their dashboard; a new facility allowing them to request documents, access bank statements and download tax certificates; plus upload digital copies of important documents through the My Briefcase feature. 

“Although technology is crucial at Investec, it will always play a supporting role to a personal client experience,” says Mr Blumenthal.

The private bank targets specific client groups, including medical professionals, entrepreneurs, high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth customers. Private clients are offered services from the bank’s Wealth & Investment division, which has offices in the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, Guernsey and Hong Kong, with a new operation recently opened up in Mauritius to expand the bank’s footprint and service Africa.

The bank recently named its first private banking brand ambassador, South African actor and entrepreneur Masego ‘Maps’ Maponyane, after he featured in a video aimed at recruiting young professionals to bank with the Investec brand.

  • Best Private Bank in Nigeria
  • Best Private Bank in Kenya
  • Winner: Standard Bank Wealth and Investment

Standard Bank Wealth and Investment, the largest bank by assets on the African continent with more than 150 years of experience, saw its client assets surge by 30% in 2015 to R165bn ($11bn), boosted by R16bn of net new money. 

With offices across South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Mauritius, Jersey and London, the bank claims to be “South Africa’s most global wealth manager” and identifies its key differentiating factor in the connection with and understanding of the local markets. 

“Periodically we see competitor banks withdrawing from African markets, whereas we are deeply rooted in our home continent,” says Deon de Klerk, head of Africa and International at Standard Bank Wealth and investment. “Africa is our home, we drive her growth.”

Its integrated onshore and offshore proposition is believed to be a key strength too, with its offshore fiduciary, investment and banking capabilities believed to be a clear differentiator in both markets.

The offering proves particularly important in turbulent markets, such as that experienced in Nigeria. The country, which relies on oil for a big chunk of its exports and has been hit hard by the collapse in prices, saw a sharp devaluation of its currency in 2016 and a corresponding inflation spike, making it a challenge to deliver inflation-adjusted real returns. 

The African bank has boosted its wealth product offering in both Nigeria and Kenya, for example, delivering high-yielding fixed-income solutions – Eurobonds and treasury bills – in Nigeria, and customised cross-border lending structures in the Kenyan market. 

In Kenya, it is the only international bank with an in-house stockbroking unit, providing innovations such as the Kenyan shilling-based dual-currency investment. 

It also pioneered the provision of alternative investments in both African countries, through exclusive partnerships with global providers, for example, giving clients access to wine investment with vintner Berry Bros & Rudd, and launching the Knight Frank proposition for the sourcing, financing and acquisition of international property in partnership.

The bank has invested considerable resources in building its Wealth and Investment Academy, to train and nurture talent internally, which has been particularly beneficial in countries where the pool of experienced practitioners is small.

The bank also continues to expand its Leadership Academy programme for clients, designed to pass down wealth management skills to the next generation. “Succession and successful inheritance planning are a key concern for local clients and we are the only bank in Africa to offer such a comprehensive next generation programme,” says Mr de Klerk.

Banking products currently account for the majority of the bank’s revenues in both markets. However, as its investment and asset management footprint continues to grow, the bank expects a corresponding increase in fee-related revenues over the coming years.

  • Best Private Bank in Mauritius
  • Winner: MCB Private Banking

MCB Private Banking and the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius share an ambition: namely to act as a gateway for channeling trade and investment flows between Asia and Africa.

“Through its strategic location and numerous advantages as a springboard to Africa, Mauritius is strengthening its position as a private banking and wealth management destination,” says Didier Merle, head of private banking at MCB.

The rising number of high-net-worth individuals in the region means prospects for growth are good. The bank’s number of private clients rose by 16.5% in a year to reach almost 7200 by the end of 2015. More than half that number come from outside the island, a trend that is likely to continue as MCB plans to expand its private banking offering into Africa. 

“Together with our representative offices in Johannesburg and Nairobi, we have identified specific initiatives to adequately respond to the growing interest from sub-Saharan countries for the diversification of their wealth management and investment destinations,” says Mr Merle. The bank is also actively targeting new clients in Europe as well as specific targets such as Dubai. 

The domestic scene remains important however. Mauritius is a competitive market, with more than 20 banks on the island, a number of them niche players serving the high-net-worth market. The growing trend of wealthy foreigners holding resident permits in Mauritius is creating is a growing demand for real estate and premium concierge services, says Mr Merle. It is important to understand these individuals’ lifestyles and their areas of interest in order to offer them convenient and unique luxury experiences, he adds. 

“The requests can be as far-fetched as booking a private jet, to having recommendations on where to sample authentic local cuisine on the island,” says Mr Merle. “Ultimately, our aim is to understand the profile of our valued clients with a view to delivering a truly personalised experience to them.”

  • Best Private Bank for Socially Responsible Investing
  • Best Private Bank for Growth Strategy
  • Winner: LGT

After several years of knocking at the door, the LGT group has burst into the inner circle of award winners in dramatic fashion, scooping accolades for both socially responsible investing and growth strategy. The growth strategy award is largely quantitatively based, supported by Scorpio’s analysis of all major private banking groups’ key performance indicators.

As the world’s largest private banking and asset management group wholly owned by a single family, running $132bn for its clients, LGT says it has garnered inflows of about $40bn over the past five years. Growth has been particularly impressive in Switzerland and Asia. 

Back in 2014, LGT bought a portfolio of Swiss private banking assets, held by clients in Europe, Africa and Latin America, from a de-risking, downsizing HSBC. LGT says one of the highlights of 2015 was the successful integration of this portfolio, worth more than $7.7bn, and the 70 staff who serviced it. All of the relationship managers chose to stay with LGT, says the bank, which claimed an asset retention rate of 85%.

But LGT has also been busy recruiting staff in the Middle East, having added 12 client advisers to its local team in Dubai during 2015, doubling the number of relationship managers employed by the bank in the region. 

Clauses relating to investment centred around environmental and social responsibility (ESG) have been enshrined in LGT’s investment strategies since 2003. Funds have been screened to detect companies with the highest ESG risks, while those companies with business models friendliest to ESG criteria have also been more likely to be included in investment portfolios.

Since 2007, LGT says it has supported more than 50 social enterprises and non-profit organisations, reaching 3.8 million less advantaged people.

  • Best Private Bank for Succession Planning
  • Winner: Brown Brothers Harriman

A key differentiator for Brown Brothers Harriman’s (BBH’s) succession planning offering is its private partnership structure, which creates a “true alignment of interests” with clients, according to Kathryn George, partner at the oldest and largest US privately owned bank, which has about $27bn in client assets.

“As both owners and clients of the firm, BBH Partners thinks about succession planning in the same context as our clients,” says Ms George. This includes understanding the importance of carefully evaluating clients’ individual needs and concerns for the near and long term, in order to ensure they have a plan specifically tailored to their personal and family objectives.

In addition, each private wealth management relationship team at BBH is staffed with a wealth planner who attends all client meetings, as opposed to many wealth management firms that have a centralised group that oversees client wealth planning, adds Ms George.

BBH’s wealth planners are former practising trusts and estates attorneys who advise clients on wealth, estate, tax and charitable giving plans, as well as collaborate with colleagues in the BBH Trust Companies.

The bank serves private business owners throughout the entire wealth cycle of creation, transition, preservation and growth, supported by the corporate advisory and banking and private equity teams.

More important than tax planning in ensuring successful wealth and business transfer is communication, says Ms George. This is why BBH provides clients with resources and strategies for having family conversations to discuss their wealth values, as well as their near- and long-term goals, and assist with family governance, next-generation education and business succession planning. “Lack of communication and trust is the leading reason for the failure of wealth transfers,” she says. 

And as women control a greater percentage of wealth and will increasingly be the primary drivers of their families’ wealth plans, it is vital to have women involved in conversations about these issues. One key area of focus for BBH Private Wealth Management in the coming years is engaging and supporting women as they create and manage wealth. The bank recently launched the BBH Centre for Women & Wealth, where women can engage in conversations about wealth, family and leadership. 

  • Best Private Banking Boutique
  • Winner: Banque Syz

Twenty years since its formation in Geneva, Banque Syz has consolidated its position as one of Switzerland’s leading private banking boutiques with the purchase of Royal Bank of Canada’s Swiss business, adding $11bn in client assets to hit a new total of $40bn.

Concentrating on portfolio management rather than traditional Swiss ‘walking the dog’ private banking, CEO and majority owner Eric Syz, who recently bought out co-founders Alfredo Piacentini and Paolo Luban, has cut a controversial figure in Geneva.

Coming from Lombard Odier, he is very much of the establishment, yet has not been afraid to be critical of the old-school banks around him, slating them for tax avoidance techniques, lack of compliance and inability to concentrate on managing clients’ assets.

The acquisition has also allowed the bank to expand its international footprint, with it now boasting operations in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East in addition to its traditional European stomping grounds. It is the belief of Mr Syz that a toehold in these areas of stronger wealth generation will help boost the growth of his operation.

The bank’s current fortunes are a world away from the depressed days following the financial crisis of 2008 when it lost more than half of its customer funds as wealthy investors turned their backs on hedge funds. “After 2008, we might have seen investors flock out of hedge funds, but that doesn’t mean that absolute return investing is dead,” says Mr Syz. “In fact, the change in Ucits regulations have allowed ‘conventional’ funds to adopt hedge fund-like strategies, with short-selling, derivatives and leverage.”

Swiss banks must adjust this to this new reality, seize opportunities and shake off their legacy of secrecy-related business, he adds, concentrating on marketing their “unique know-how in international investing”.

Since taking full control of the operation, Mr Syz claims the bank is now one of Switzerland’s “consolidators”. One of his moves to facilitate this objective has been the outsourcing of its back office and IT operations in order to absorb increased volumes of assets garnered from the Royal Bank of Canada buyout. 

The new growth strategy also involves diversifying revenues by widening the bank’s geographical footprint to new territories and also its product range to embrace both active advisory services and private equity investments 

  • Best Private Bank for Digital Communication
  • Winner: CaixaBank

Key to the digital transformation at La Caixa, one of the most important consolidators of Spain’s vibrant, technology-led private banking sector, is regulation.

The onset of tighter, more customer-focused rules under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II, requiring a trail of records of all banker-client conversations and transactions, led to solutions centred around technology. Fast digitisation was the only way to keep up with the rulebook’s demands, admits Victor Allende, the private banking boss at CaixaBank, who has an enthusiasm for all things computerised. Indeed, one of the reasons why his bank, along with local rivals BBVA and Santander have caught up with high-quality foreign rivals in terms of service has been due to their relentless pursuit of the digital agenda, one of the goals enshrined in the organisation’s 2015-18 strategic plan.

At Caixa, one of the centrepieces of this has been El Muro (The Wall) , a new virtual space where 57,000 wealthy private clients can meet relationship managers in safety, without risking hackable exchanges on e-mail. This has also facilitated more trading of mutual funds, including exchange-traded funds, though stopping short of robo-advice, due to a strong belief at the bank that clients will always want wise human beings to speak to, receive advice from and bounce ideas off.

“The Wall remains the key tool in our digital transformation model,” says Mr Allende. “It ensures a confidential dialogue and exchange of information between customers and their private bankers.”

Another solution developed by CaixaBank has been the possibility for clients to sign contracts electronically via smart PCs which the account managers carry around with them. The bank has also launched Research Plus, a website providing clients with ‘exclusive’ economic and financial information. 

  • Best Private Bank for International Customer Service
  • Winner: Santander Private Banking

Santander Private Banking, part of the Santander Group, aims to become ‘the only bank’ for its clients, offering a wide range of solutions for all their financial needs. 

At the end of 2015, the Santander Private Banking business had a total of €166bn in assets under management, up 5% year on year. It currently has business units in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, the US, Switzerland and the Bahamas. A network of more than 100 private banking branches and some 2000 professionals have afforded Santander a position of leadership in the sector. 

The business model of Santander Private Banking harnesses the group’s multiple strengths and capacities, where the private banker is the link between the bank and the customer, supported by experts in multiple fields and advanced technological tools to aid with investment decisions. Its investment process uses an individual analysis of client demands, which establishes the portfolio’s investment horizon and the level of risk aversion.  

This year, the bank won the Best Private Bank for International Customer Service award, and was highly commended in the Best Private Bank in Chile category. 

Its excellence in customer services was backed by the results of the latest Scorpio Partnership Global Private Banking Benchmark survey. 

“As a group, the business acknowledged early on the fundamental importance of placing client experience excellence at the heart of its approach in wealth management,” says Sebastian Dovey, an awards judge and the managing partner at Scorpio Partnership. “There was a cultural shift from product to service, and a process of evaluation on their progress. Santander was ahead of many others in the private banking and wealth management arena. The results of this transformation in thinking are now showing in the client feedback.” 

The bank is adapting its service model to the digital transformation led by the Santander Group, which aims to significantly increase the number of users on digital channels.

  • Best Private Bank for Entrepreneurs
  • Best Regarded Brand in Private Banking
  • Winner: BNP Paribas Wealth Management

With its private banking tentacles extending not just through Europe’s developed and up-and-coming economies but deep into the Asian markets that it once struggled to penetrate, the brand of BNP Paribas, augmented by its distinctive green and white logo and its ‘bank for a changing world’ tagline, is finally a force to be reckoned with.

This is not just about size, with the Parisian house now running client assets worth $360bn, but market presence. London is a case in point, with both clients and portfolio managers keen to visit spacious, airy offices in the heart of the City of London at Aldermanbury Square. The bank employs only 50 people specialising in wealth management in London, but a growing number of the bank’s most influential clients are sometimes based in the UK capital, often non-residents with an international perspective, with those from eastern Europe and the Middle East also keen to book their business here.

“The UK is a very important offshore centre for us and will remain as such,” says Vincent Lecomte, joint CEO at BNP Paribas Wealth Management. 

The bank’s strong presence in the sport of tennis, centring on the annual Roland Garros clay court tournament in the heart of the French capital, also creates an excellent focal point for clients, attracting many entrepreneurs from the Far East, in addition to those from Europe. Indeed, Asia, where the wealth manager employs 1200 of its 6600 workforce, is expected to be a key area of growth. 

The bank is already serving its third generation of Asian clients, predominantly belonging to entrepreneurial families prominent in industries including shipping and textiles, with extensive real estate interests in Hong Kong, London, the US and Canada.

“This is part of our role,” adds Mr Lecomte. “We need to accompany our clients for the long run.”

These entrepreneurial families are particularly keen to learn about family governance and wealth planning issues, he adds, leading to the bank staging many seminars for them, concentrating on how to transition wealth from one generation to the next. Combining such teach-ins with a visit to one of the tennis tournaments the bank sponsors appears to be a winning formula for now. 

  • Best Private Bank for Family Offices
  • Winner: BNY Mellon Wealth Management

BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s dedicated unit, the Family Office Services group, was established 45 years ago and was among the first of its kind in the US. Through its 60-strong team, it provides specialised resources designed for 400-plus family offices and advisers, which it serves across the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. 

“As part of a global financial institution that operates in multiple jurisdictions, we are a strong partner for global, multi-currency and multi-jurisdictional families whose members may live all over the world under varying tax and legal regulations,” says Eileen Foley, national director of BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s Family Office Group.

Founded in 1784, BNY Mellon Wealth Management is the oldest private bank in the US, with $198bn in private client assets. Targeting fast-growing wealth markets in the US, in 2015 it opened a family office location in Palo Alto, with more than $3bn in assets under administration sourced from the firm’s US coast and Pacific Rim client base. 

Leveraging the global resources of BNY Mellon, the world’s largest custodian, the bank sees significant opportunity to expand its family office services within Europe, by providing automated, online consolidated reporting. 

“Europe’s prevailing private banking model, in which private banks provide investment management plus custody, requires family offices to use multiple custodians and conduct data consolidation in house. Our master global custodian services can bring greater efficiency and save costs for family office clients,” says Ms Foley. 

The bank, which has a dedicated group of family wealth investment advisers providing investment advice to family office clients, last year introduced an ad hoc team of wealth planning analysts to better serve clients with particularly complex planning needs, called Global Insights Lab.

Wealth transfer is a key issue many family offices and high-net-worth investors are dealing with worldwide, says Ms Foley. 

“The next decade will usher in a huge wave of wealth changing hands, as wealth creators age and the next generation steps forward,” she adds. Moreover, with family office members increasingly living in multiple jurisdictions, wealth transfer becomes even more complex. 


All fields are mandatory

The Banker is a service from the Financial Times. The Financial Times Ltd takes your privacy seriously.

Choose how you want us to contact you.

Invites and Offers from The Banker

Receive exclusive personalised event invitations, carefully curated offers and promotions from The Banker

For more information about how we use your data, please refer to our privacy and cookie policies.

Terms and conditions

Top 1000 2023

Request a demonstration to The Banker Database

Join our community

The Banker on Twitter