UBS may have come out on top once again in our annual private banking awards, but competitors are closing in, while a number of regional banks appear to be making a successful transition onto the global stage

During a time of disruption from new technology, regulation and the changing ‘next-generation’ mindset, there is much internal discussion going on within private banks about how much they need to change to keep up with client needs and what the private bank of the future will look like. Many, even the biggest, are worried that if they do not make the transformation quickly enough, they will be replaced by rising institutions who are innovating faster and may even leave a gap for new-style, digitised entrants to the market.

Key facts 

  • The addition of 17 new award categories this year brings the total number to a record 90.
  • To recognise excellence of regional players, we have split the global categories for best service offerings into regional ones. These include customer service – succession planning, philanthropy services and relationship management technology.
  • Bulgaria, Ghana, Kuwait and Oman all received country awards for the first time.
  • The number of applicants continues to be high at 125, compared with 103 just three years ago. 
  • New entrants represent 10% of all applicants, while a 102-strong cohort of institutions re-entered after a break in 2016. 
  • Of the 60 institutions reaching the top spot in any specific category, eight have won an award for the first time this year. The rotation of winners across categories is significant, as 25 winners in any specific category are different from last year’s awards.  
  • Each institution has applied for an average of four categories, among a total of 500 category-specific entries.

These appear to be the main themes of pre-occupation in the private banking community, as PWM and The Banker magazines present their ninth annual Global Private Banking Awards. While UBS is still reaping the rewards of many years of investment in scale and technology, this year winning awards for philanthropy, client-facing technology and servicing the increasingly important ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) segment, as well as maintaining the crown for the best global private bank, it is clear that other banks are catching up. 

UBS is still setting the pace, coming up with new far-reaching goals, leading in digitisation and increasingly investing in the ‘softer’ side of the business, working with family offices, drawing up succession plans and encouraging women entrepreneurs. But key competitor Credit Suisse is running UBS close in several markets, especially Asia, which is no longer being given so much emphasis among UBS bosses now that growth has slowed down. 

Several members of our 16-strong judging panel believe the Swiss leader is under more pressure than ever, even though they still see it as the best all-round private bank. And regular conversations with top management at UBS show the vast amount of new ideas and innovations constantly being dreamt up by the bank reflect a mounting sense of insecurity about holding on to the top berth in the future. “While UBS has become a benchmark for others to emulate, unless it continues to raise the bar, it will not be able to retain its pole position,” says Amin Rajan, founder of the Create-Research consultancy. “No bank has ever managed to remain at the top for more than a decade, thanks to the curse of success: success invites hubris and hubris creates nemesis.”

Fellow judge Christina Baltz, a wealth planning and tax partner at WithersWorldwide in New York, agrees that the heat is now firmly on UBS. “UBS has a great global brand and does offer the pre-eminent global platform for the client who needs or wants that,” she says. “But it’s impossible for any institution to be all things to all people, so there is plenty of room for others to succeed at being the firm of choice for niche or bespoke offerings that ‘global citizen’ UHNW clients want, or to be the firm of choice in a client’s local market.”

Moreover, the ‘one-bank’ model, which has dominated the thinking of the largest banks for more than a decade, using private banking often as a distribution channel for asset management and investment banking products, while still going strong, may have a limited future shelf-life.

“The two Swiss banks, as well as other competitors, are increasingly selling in-house products with inherent conflicts,” says Ray Soudah, founder of mergers and acquisitions and strategy consultants MillenniumAssociates. “Furthermore, their investment banks are not always interested in the projects that the private banking division bring.” Private clients, believe Mr Soudah and other commentators, still want and will increasingly demand fully independent advice, which they are not currently receiving from some of the leading private banking players. 

Any such doubts among leading Swiss banks will be further stirred given that Citi has secured the awards both for global brand and global customer service. There appears to be a recognition, among both consultants and clients, that simply spending millions on billboard posters, fancy TV advertisements accompanied by tunes which tug at the family heartstrings and on sponsorship of international sporting events, to which the wealthiest clients are invited, is simply not enough. Clients are also increasingly asking: “What does that brand mean for me?” If it really is just a Kitemark on a leather portfolio folder which is given to the client, or a badge on another accessory, that is no longer enough. Clients are increasingly expecting the bank to deliver on its brand, for the bank to improve their life, either financially or in terms of allowing them to play a role in the development of society through impact investing, private equity and philanthropy. The ideal bank will be able to fulfil all of these needs.

The rise of some of the boutique banks to become much larger institutions – UBP, Vontobel and two of our award winners, Geneva’s Banque Syz and Liechtenstein’s LGT, spring to mind – shows customers are willing to look away from the leaders for their private banking needs, especially when it comes to more niche services such as private equity, hedge funds and impact investments. Some boutiques, according to Mr Soudah, are already starting to shake off their artisan roots and succumbing to the temptation of emulating the larger “utilities”.

“By focusing on a limited number of specifically targeted countries or markets,” says Ms Baltz, this cohort over time “can compete with the big players in those countries.” She cites Vontobel’s increasing US penetration of high-net-worth clients, using investment strategy as a key differentiator, as an example of this trend.

Regional champions are also fast emerging to tackle the global players, with DBS in particular, a very innovative forward-looking bank in Singapore, now taking its place as one of Asia’s leading institutions. This trend is expected to continue and accelerate. “Local and regional players will eventually dominate the private banking landscape in Asia, as they have the cheaper cost bases,” says Mr Soudah, expecting the Chinese banks to eventually enter the broader pan-Asian space through large acquisitions in the next few years.

“As the local players develop their brands, they will challenge the supremacy of the Swiss banks,” adds Mr Rajan. “UBS and Credit Suisse will have to work exceptionally hard to remain at the top in Asia.”

Similarly, the economics are likely to lead Latin American banks such as Itaú and LarrainVial to leverage their brands and low-cost bases to become the most prominent players on their own continent, exploiting the market gaps left by traditional players such as HSBC and RBC, believes Mr Soudah.

This theme of the market becoming more open to the rise of other big, medium and small banks to compete with the “behemoths” is a long-term and persuasive one, believes independent family office adviser and former private banking boss Gerard Aquilina, who cites the emergence of DBS, Itaú and BTG Pactual and the growth of Swiss player Julius Baer as evidence of this trend. He expects the growth in breadth and depth of Latin American capital markets – which also help stabilise economies and encourage wealthy private clients to re-invest their wealth locally – to boost product offerings for regional banks and help them compete with international players. He believes there is “too much hype” regarding the ability of universal banks to truly wed their investment banking and private banking offerings, saying the likes of Julius Baer are competing very effectively, despite not having investment banking capability.

With the growth of local banks has come the withdrawal of many international banks from regions including Latin America, according to Mr Aquilina – their hands being forced by pressures on tax compliance and their re-focusing on key markets in the post-2008 clean-up. “There are now some truly excellent local players in Latin America, from Banorte to LarrainVial to Itaú and Pactual,” he says. “These banks can easily rival the international banks in terms of product choice and the high calibre of their wealth advisers.” 

  • Best Global Private Bank
  • Best Private Bank for Philanthropy Services Globally
  • Best Private Bank for UHNW Clients
  • Best Initiative of the Year in Client-facing Technology
  • Winner: UBS Wealth Management

UBS Wealth Management is a player that continues to be reckoned with, overseeing more than $1000bn in client assets for non-US clients, and slightly more in the US. But unlike global brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the Swiss bank keeps re-inventing itself in order to maintain its global leadership ranking.

The bank is no stranger to chassis-shaking transitions. It was the first wealth manager to state, more than 10 years ago, that the old ways of using Switzerland for tax and secrecy purposes and as a base from which to sell structured products were past their sell-by date. It was the first private bank to settle with US authorities for irregular practices, the first to embrace asset management as its raison d’etre and the first to champion both hedge funds and exchange-traded funds as core products within discretionary portfolios.

Today, that transformation continues apace, with investment management and portfolio construction becoming increasingly formalised and leveraged globally, coupled with asset allocation advice from chief investment officers, backed by technology from Swiss-based platforms. 

Activity has been particularly pronounced in the global family office and ultra-high-net-worth divisions, now built up to being potentially the highest earners of the bank, eclipsing attention previously lavished on the Asia-Pacific operations, based out of Hong Kong and Singapore. The Far Eastern jewel, once so far ahead of competitors, while still important, is no longer the major growth engine of business, with a much broader spread of clients targeted geographically, tempted by a wider mix of strategies, including impact investing, philanthropy and private equity.

Joe Stadler, head of the bank’s ultra-high-net-worth business, points to “significant progress in Europe” now starting to rival the bank’s undoubted Asian expertise, with what he calls “big money” consolidating into the hands of a smaller number of specialist firms. “We are the main beneficiary of this in Europe, as many of our previous competitors have wound down or exited the business,” he says.

Where once the bank prided itself in the hard push of structured products to its richest clients, with all advisers required to sell certain quotas, today it is more likely to seek praise for its social conscience and warmer approach to clients, although the ruthless financial streak has not disappeared.

“UBS is unique in its approach to the softer side of the business,” says Sara Ferrari, head of the global family office group at UBS. “We are more attuned to both impact investing and female clients. These are among the key challenges and opportunities we have to embrace to better align ourselves with our client base.”  

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

With both headcounts and assets rising, Pictet has launched a major initiative to boost its EU presence, by siting a key operations office in Luxembourg. A new booking centre in London also complements expansion in Germany and Italy. The bank also launched its Pictet Technologies IT company in 2016, employing 48 specialists. 

“For Pictet, Europe has always been, for obvious geographical and cultural reasons, a key strategic region,” says Remy Best, managing partner at the Pictet Group. He is particularly proud that this European growth, which has also included adding offices in Paris, Madrid and Barcelona, has been achieved by “organic means only, without recourse to mergers or acquisitions”, which Swiss competitors have been keener to take advantage of.

To accommodate continuing growth, particularly the hiring of senior bankers, Pictet’s London operation has recently relocated to offices twice the size of previous premises in Mayfair, from where it serves clients from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Russia and Latin America. That said, the home Swiss market remains hugely important for Pictet, with Mr Best believing the country’s strengths, including “a culture of discretion”, are coming into their own “in the unpredictable and unstable environment we live in”.

Ultra-high-net-worth clients are making up an increasingly important part of this focus, with the skills of Pictet Asset Management in servicing central banks, pension schemes and sovereign wealth funds now being used to help families and wealthy private individuals.  

The judges 

  • Gerard Aquilina, independent family officer adviser. 
  • Christina Baltz, wealth planning and tax partner, WithersWorldwide. 
  • Yuri Bender, editor-in-chief, Professional Wealth Management magazine. 
  • Kim Cornwall, founder and CEO, Cornwall and Co Consulting. 
  • Seb Dovey, management consultant. 
  • Shelby R du Pasquier, partner, head of banking and finance group, Lenz & Staehelin. 
  • Christian A Edelmann, partner, global head corporate and institutional banking and wealth and asset management practices, Oliver Wyman. 
  • Simeon Fowler, CEO, Fowler Fox & Co group of companies. 
  • Julia Leong, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Singapore. 
  • Silvia Pavoni, economics editor, The Banker.
  • Alois Pirker, research director wealth management, Aite Group. 
  • Amin Rajan, CEO, Create-Research. 
  • Ray Soudah, founder, MilleniumAssociates. 
  • William Sullivan, global head of market intelligence, Capgemini Financial Services. 
  • Stephen Wall, co-founder, The Wealth Mosaic. 
  • Cara Williams, global head of wealth management, Mercer. 
  • Best Private Bank in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Best Private Bank in Austria
  • Best Private Bank in Croatia
  • Winner: Erste Private Banking

Erste Private Banking (Erste PB) is one of the leading wealth managers in central and eastern Europe (CEE) and the largest wealth manager in Austria. The bank has more than 16,000 private clients with a combined wealth of Ä17bn, and services them from its headquarters in Vienna and its local private banking units in the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Erste PB has secured three awards this year, as Best Private Bank in CEE, Austria and Croatia. The bank offers a comprehensive range of services covering all aspects of private banking, wealth management, financial planning and execution services, as well as cross-border and cross-jurisdictional services across the CEE region.

In 2016, the private bank was able to acquire more than 400 clients from Erste’s retail network in Austria. Wolfgang Traindl, head of private banking and institutional clients at Erste Bank Österreich, says: “As a private bank within a universal bank, we can offer our clients, besides wealth management and advisory services, a full range of private banking, real estate and corporate products, and services such as transaction banking or short- and long-term financing. On the advisory side, we strongly emphasise guiding our clients into sustainable investment and philanthropy.” 

Erste has been providing private banking services in Croatia since 2011, and has offices in Zagreb, Rijeka and Split, servicing more than 800 high-net-worth clients. “In a highly competitive environment of ever-shrinking yield universe, we have managed to create products that offer value to our clients, while taking into account their desired risk exposures,” says Kristina Buconjic, head of private banking at Erste Bank in Croatia. “We assume that next year, with changing yield trends, will be especially challenging but we stand ready to take it up.” 

  • Best Private Bank in the Middle East
  • Best Private Bank in Russia
  • Winner: Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse enjoyed a huge surge in its private banking assets during 2016, with $30bn in net new money, up from $19bn the year before, and commentators agree that it is catching up with key Swiss rival UBS, particularly in the penetration of key markets such as Asia-Pacific, where the management believe there is space for a much greater range of competitors. 

Yet the bank still receives much criticism for its business model, which aims to entwine private banking and investment banking to make them more inter-dependent. The whole strategy is based on encouraging private banking clients to do deals requiring mergers and acquisitions specialisation or other capital markets skills. Credit Suisse bankers claim two-thirds of private clients use these services, although outsiders are more sceptical, suggesting a lower level of penetration.

“There are very few entrepreneurial clients on the private banking side who don’t do investment banking business with us and very few investment banking clients who don’t do private banking business with us,” says Franceso de Ferrari, head of Credit Suisse Private Banking for the Asia-Pacific region.

Indeed, the bank has set up a working group to help further integrate the two divisions in order to boost profits, although some critics believe the amount of business generated by the wealth management division is not enough to keep a specialist investment banking unit well fed and watered.

The bank is also once again building up its asset management subsidiary, most of which was previously sold off, but this time specialising in alternative assets, rather than the traditional funds of old, which are being made available to private clients. The Middle East remains a major priority as do the emerging markets of eastern Europe. Although Credit Suisse has recently downsized in Russia, it remains a prominent player there and is happy to work with clients who are at a much earlier stage in the business cycle, providing the bank can lend money to them.

“Most of the wealth is new wealth, generated by first-generation entrepreneurs,” says Robert Cielen, head of emerging Europe at Credit Suisse, discussing his experiences of serving clients across the region. “One of the first priorities is not just to help the clients manage their wealth but to grow their business. We try to position ourselves also as a bank to lend to these clients. Our discussion always starts with: ‘How is your business doing and how can we help you grow?’.”

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

Singapore’s DBS has finally started looking outwards, opening new offices in both London and Dubai, rather than just contentedly existing as a leading bank in Singapore and south-east Asian economies. 

This strategy is no doubt helped by excellent financial performance, with client assets now exceeding $80bn, following recent acquisitions of wealth management units at ANZ and Société Générale, and nearly $12bn of net new money during 2016. DBS says it has grown wealth management by 20% annually over the past six years.

Management says recent success is down to “doubling down” on the basics of integrating banking and wealth management solutions, helping clients build regional relationships and generating much pan-Asian economic research. This effort has been further amplified by strengthening leadership, accelerating the digital agenda and fully realising revenue from the recent integration of the SocGen private banking franchise, according to bank bosses. In addition to improving the DBS iWealth platform in Singapore, technology allowing relationship managers to onboard, service and transact for clients via iPads is being rolled out across south-east Asia. They have high hopes for the digital footprint in Indonesia and Taiwan in particular.

DBS has always been strong in digital innovation. But it feels it has now learned from its mistakes, having been one of the vanguard of the private banking field to explore artificial intelligence (AI) and the manipulation of big data.

“Having experimented with AI and learnt from various partnerships with fintech companies, our teams are now trained in agile processes, familiar with running customer-centric journeys,” says Su Shan Tan, group head of consumer banking and wealth management at DBS Bank. Relationship managers, she adds, are now focusing on “data as the new currency on which to provide relevant and timely wealth advice and solutions to our customers”.

This focus on data appears key to the DBS strategy, especially where portfolio management is concerned, combining algorithms with details about clients’ goals, risk appetite and available assets to both recommend specific products and rebalance allocations in response to changing market conditions.

  • Best Private Bank in Latin America
  • Best Private Bank in Spain
  • Winner: Santander Private Banking

Santander Private Banking (SPB) has secured two of this year’s awards – Best Private Bank in Spain and Best Private Bank in Latin America.

SPB, part of the Santander Group, has a presence in Europe, Latin America and the US, and provides private banking and wealth management services across a network of 100 dedicated branches.

According to Victor Matarranz, head of the wealth management division, SPB is responding to the challenges faced by the private banking sector at a global level, driven mainly by the changing habits of clients who now have greater access to information and demand different approaches to advisory services. “We have to create a new way of understanding private banking, to be at the service of our customers, becoming much more digital but relying on the knowledge and experience of our bankers, whom our customers value the most,” he explains.

The bank has implemented a number of initiatives to increase digitalisation in their communications with clients, with the launch of new apps, digital signature facilities and the digitalisation of some administrative tasks, among others. This is in line with the general direction of Banco Santander, which has recently launched a new strategy called Digifilosofía, aimed at changing customer habits and promoting the use of digital channels.

“At the same time, we are starting to enter the digital advice space and its application to private banking needs and clients. We are working on an automised advisory engine that will provide our customers with monthly investment proposals, replicating the banker’s advice and taking the client’s total portfolio and preferences into account, covering the complete product catalogue,” says Mr Matarranz.

SBP has also dedicated time and resources to expand the range of investment solutions available to its private banking clients, including the launch of an alternative investments department. Using its well-established open architecture model, clients will be able to access the best private equity funds and hedge funds. The bank has also developed a new procedure to easily identify the best exchange-traded funds.

  • Best Private Bank in the Nordics
  • Best Private Bank in Finland
  • Best Private Bank in Norway
  • Winner: Nordea Private Banking

At Nordea, the largest private bank in the Nordics, assets under management rose by 8% to €86bn in 2016, while income growth was also solid, as efforts to become a more ‘agile’ organisation seemingly paid off. 

The private bank established a new platform, called the Ocean, aimed at developing and implementing business development initiatives by introducing “agile teams”, while leveraging the Nordea Group’s competences, according to Thorben Sander, head of Nordea Private Banking. These teams operate as “speedboats” organised in “fleets” on strategic themes and all of them must contribute to building and sustaining client satisfaction as well as employee engagement, he says.

The bank rolled out its Next Generation programme in 2016 in all its markets, and has also transformed its wealth advisory approach to provide a one-stop shop, including legal advice and inheritance planning, as well as specialised support to entrepreneurs.

“We are confident that this approach helps us unlock the full potential of our client’s wealth,” says Mr Sander. 

In 2016, the bank launched the Nordea Start-up Accelerator, with the objective to create business development hubs and enhance collaboration between the group and start-ups. This is achieved by matching fintechs with dedicated mentors at Nordea. 

“One of our success stories, Feelingstream, uses artificial intelligence to automatically analyse text, and opens up new opportunities to improve our customer service,” says Mr Sander.

When it comes to technological innovation, the introduction of digital documents and digital signatures, launched to speed up client processes, has been particularly welcome. Also, advisers have been equipped with a new interactive digital presentation tool to enhance their meetings. In addition, the bank expanded its digital communication through webinars and podcasts.

These solutions followed the launch of e-branches, offering the same services as physical branches, including video chats with advisers, but with more flexible opening hours, including evenings and weekends. 

Going forward, the bank sees ‘considerable potential’ in robotic process automation and is in the process of developing and implementing new solutions, while the Robotics Centre of Excellence, established in February this year, supports business units.

“The private banking industry is undergoing significant changes and challenges, ranging from increasing regulatory pressures and digitalisation to changing client preferences,” says Mr Sander. 

“In this environment, modern customised solutions and the ability to cater to vastly different client preferences will play a fundamental role.”  

  • Best Private Bank in the US
  • Best Private Bank in the US for Succession Planning
  • Best Private Bank for Family Offices
  • Winner: Northern Trust

Posting a respectable set of metrics with assets managed for private clients rising from $227bn to $248bn in 2016, alongside a hugely impressive ratio of each adviser working with less than 30 clients, Northern Trust is also revising its compensation structure to remove product sales-based incentives and align bonuses to client retention and growth.

The Chicago-based wealth managers’ hierarchy puts the success down to “breadth of capability, depth and experience and integrated delivery”, but beyond this corporate speak is a more fundamental reason for the bank’s ability to stay at the top of rankings. Northern Trust has hit on the formula of how to marry old-fashioned wealth management with technology and goals-based asset allocation techniques in a way that not only helps clients, but keeps the bank very profitable, with the help of a significant infrastructure built for custody customers, leveraged for wealth management. 

“The custody infrastructure we have developed is a foundational contributor to Northern Trust’s wealth management success,” says Steven L. Fradkin, president of Northern Trust Wealth Management, who believes having $9300bn in assets under custody and administration offers the bank an “extraordinary competitive advantage” in addition to economies of scale.

Deep conversations with customers are, where routinely possible, backed by empirical data with technology helping visualise outcomes. “Our goals-driven wealth management is a fusion of adviser-driven experience supported by robust digital technology,” says Mr Fradkin, typical of Northern’s crop of veteran leaders who appear traditional in outlook but are happy to entertain and encourage constant innovation programmes, influenced by other industries, especially those based in Silicon Valley.  

But the more time-consuming and onerous disciplines of succession planning are not ignored by any means, with this service seen as providing a “window to the entire family, business and wealth structure of a client,” according to Mr Fradkin. “As we work with clients on succession, we are privy to the core intentions, business and family dynamics of our clients, which informs how we can best help clients plan and manage their wealth.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Australia
  • Winner: BT Private Wealth

BT Private Wealth has continued to strengthen its direct wealth business, to cater to self-directed investors, recently offering them the possibility to directly transact in international equities.

The bank’s investment and private wealth markets services are “ahead of its competitors in terms of insights and innovation”, claims Jane Watts, general manager at BT Private Wealth. 

 “Our ‘advice on your terms’ engagement model is key to our value proposition as it truly suits our clients’ preferences,” says Ms Watts. Clients can access everything from execution-only services to the provision of comprehensive personal advice via the bank’s strategic wealth advisers. Analysing and reshaping the bank’s services based on clients’ feedback is also crucial to generating high levels of satisfaction, she adds.

Customers can gain access to “unlisted, wholesale and sophisticated solutions” through the bank’s Global Investment Service, according to Ms Watts. These solutions are sourced and selected based on the bank’s thematic views on global and domestic markets, as well as clients’ direction. “The thematic approach is outside
of a traditional asset allocation approach and allows our clients to invest within thematic areas that resonate with them,” adds Ms Watts.

The platform facilitates the pooling of assets, allowing access to investment solutions that are generally out of reach, due to high minimum investment amounts, being institutional in nature or bespoke opportunities, explains Ms Watts.

The Australian bank, which last year attracted A$6.4bn ($5bn) in net new money, bringing total client assets to more than A$37bn, launched several alternative solutions, recognising these are “increasingly important options for clients given that the universe of yield solutions is shrinking”, says Ms Watts. 

Recently it introduced venture capital funds for the first time, allowing access at a lower minimum entry. It also offered access to a private equity fund as it was being raised. 

With the great majority of high-net-worth clients looking for more ability to direct their own investments, the bank continues to invest in technology and digital capabilities to enhance its client experience and is cautiously considering launching a ‘genuine, robo-advice solution’ in the future.  

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

Winner of the Best Private Bank in New Zealand award for the third year running, BNZ Private Bank has undertaken key initiatives to enhance its value proposition to clients, with a focus on delivering a more robust investment programme offering a ‘truly global reach’. 

The appointment of Australasian asset consultant Jana enabled the bank to expand its investment research and manager selection capabilities, offer a better quality portfolios to clients and provide access to specialist investment managers not available to other investors in the country, explains Donna Nicolof, head of BNZ Wealth and Private Bank. 

A review of strategic asset allocation brought greater diversification and exposure to international assets, which have now increased to represent 64% of assets in client model portfolios, from less than 40% two years ago. 

“This initiative was driven in part by our desire to manage investment risk, particularly in an environment of increased uncertainty,” says Ms Nicolof.

Finally, under its own brand, the bank launched a new range of funds, the Private Wealth Series, managed by sub-advisers on a segregated basis. “These funds offer a cleaner, simpler investment proposition to our clients, while delivering scale and efficiency into our business,” says Ms Nicolof. These investment solutions also enable better control and oversight of client money and are “unique to the bank, better representing its values”, she says, referring to the newly launched multi-manager, multi-style international equity fund which incorporates a responsible investment overlay.  

Gradually shifting client assets into its own products, away from off the shelf, third-party retail funds are also more remunerative for the bank, which has enjoyed a 160% revenue growth since the fund series launch.

During the past three years, BNZ’s Wealth and Private Bank team almost tripled the size of funds under management, from NZ$1.5bn ($1.07bn) to NZ$4.3bn. The growth was boosted by surging demand for private banking and family office services, as people’s wealth expanded, mainly driven by business sales, New Zealanders returning home and new migrants. 

“We see these factors continuing to increase the demand for private banking in years to come,” says Ms Nicolof.

  • Best Private Bank in Brazil
  • Best Private Bank in Latin America for Customer Service
  • Winner: Itaú Private Bank

Despite the economic turbulence and political instability in Latin America, Itaú Private Bank, which manages more than 300bn reais ($94bn) in client assets, enjoyed 11bn reais in net new money, while net income and revenue increased 71% and 21%, respectively. These results, combined with consistent cost management, enabled the bank to reduce its cost-to-income ratio by 12 basis points.

In Brazil, what paid off was the bank’s ability to “understand client needs, propose a complete offering aligned to those needs, and being transparent, especially in regard to pricing and risks”, explains Luiz Severiano, head of Itaú Private Bank Brazil. “This strengthens our relationship with clients, which is built on trust.” 

The bank’s efforts in developing a sophisticated product offering and an international platform over the past few years – with further enhancements made in 2016 in Switzerland, the US and the Caribbean – make the bank well positioned to work in the new scenario of lower interest rates, which are likely to be a challenge, as investors are used to double-digit annual returns.

“We expect clients to be more willing to invest in higher risk products, with an international exposure, in order to maintain their returns,” says Mr Severiano. “This is a good opportunity for us to further increase our market share in Brazil and enhance our positioning offshore.” 

The private bank has a market share of 28% in the Brazilian wealth management market. Among ultra-high-net-worth clients it is even higher, 30%, and is expected to increase following the implementation of Brazil’s tax amnesty programme.

Over the past year, the bank raised the asset management threshold for Itaú Family Office to 400m reais and tailored its marketing approach to focus on potential clients with assets exceeding 10m reais. “Both changes were made to enable us to provide more tailored, specific services,” says Mr Severiano. 

During 2016, improvements were made to the technology platform, affecting both clients and advisers. “Clients have been reacting surprisingly well and want to try new features, such as video conferencing, investments and authorisations through digital channels,” says Mr Severiano. 

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

The opportunities for private banks in China are considerable. According to the 2017 China Private Wealth Report, published by CMB and Bain & Company, the number of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in the country has been continuously increasing since 2009, reaching 1.58 million by 2016. 

This progress is projected to continue. “The China private wealth market is enjoying rapid growth with huge potential for further development,” says a spokesman from China Merchants Bank (CMB).

The bank was one of the first commercial banks in the country to enter the private banking space, launching its first services back in 2007. By the end of 2016, CMB had 53 private banking centres across the country, serving more than 58,000 clients with total assets under management of about Rmb1500bn ($225bn).

The ability of wealth managers to offer a professional service to their clients “is the only core competitive advantage” rival firms can use to attract and retain clients, says the spokesperson. 

“Over 10 years, our private bank has built a professional investment system of advisory services, comprehensive asset management and product service capabilities to meet high-end customer investment needs, and to continuously achieve the value of customer wealth preservation,” adds the spokesperson.

To help clients allocate assets, CMB private banking has developed an open product platform that it claims is the market leader in China due to its diversity of products and functions. The financial products offered include cash management/currency market, fixed income, equity, alternative and overseas investment products to provide comprehensive investment opportunities for clients.

The global asset allocation demands of Chinese clients have increased sharply, with the percentage of HNWIs who have already invested in overseas markets increasing from 19% in 2011 to 56% in 2017, according to the China Wealth Report. This figure is expected to rise in the future, making access to overseas markets a key battleground for private banks. 

“We are accelerating the development of global investment and financial services, such as cross-border asset allocation, wealth inheritance, tax planning, legal advisory and other services, to manage their assets in both domestic and international markets,” says the spokesman. 

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

Kotak Wealth Management, the private banking arm of Kotak Mahindra Bank, provides financial advice to some 40% of India’s 100 wealthiest families, as defined by the Forbes India Rich List 2016. With more than 16 years of experience, it is one of the oldest wealth managers in the country.

The Kotak Family Office service has more than 100 clients, focusing on areas such as succession planning, tax optimisation and philanthropy.

Digital communication is important at Kotak and the bank has introduced its own online reporting platform providing live access to investment portfolios, while private banking clients are also catered to via its wealth app.

The bank is also extending its reach deeper into its clients’ families. Its annual Next-Gen Connect programme is aimed at the children, offering a three-week annual experience programme to teach them about markets, asset classes and investments. Meanwhile the Leading Ladies programme is a scheme organised for the spouses of existing clients covering similar themes.

“There was a latent need among ultra-high-net-worth individuals to enhance financial understanding among family members,” says a spokesman at the bank. “So far we have reached more than 100 families across India with this programme.”

Indian investors have traditionally favoured domestic investments into traditional asset classes; however, Kotak reports that this is gradually changing. The new generation of business professionals is much more likely to take on more risk in their investments and look at allocations to start-ups and early-stage companies, as well as looking at overseas investments. While Kotak may not necessarily have the in-house expertise to cater to these demands directly, the bank’s open architecture approach ensures it has a number of tie-ups to ensure it can meet its clients’ needs. 

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

Few people remember that HSBC stands for the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation – the bank was founded in Hong Kong in 1865.

It is also tempting to say that the clue to HSBC’s accolade as Best Private Bank in Hong Kong lies in the name. Certainly many of this year’s victors around the world are extremely long established in their particular national market.

“For many years, HSBC Private Banking has helped clients build, manage and preserve their wealth, and supported the growth of their businesses into international powerhouses through HSBC’s universal banking capabilities,” says Kevin Herbert, co-head, north Asia, at HSBC Private Banking. “The bank’s history, connections and understanding of the market and the region certainly differentiate us from our competitors.”

However, many private banks once dominant in a particular location have, through resting on their laurels, lost this dominance. Far from resting, HSBC has been busy.

In particular, it has given a lot of thought to the needs of Hong Kong clients, which often require other services in addition to straightforward wealth management. In this respect, the private bank’s inclusion within a huge banking group is an advantage.

“Within the private bank, we offer clients a wide range of capabilities to cater to their interests, including corporate finance solutions, credit advisory solutions, real estate club deals and other services,” says Mr Herbert. “Our private wealth solutions department has also supported families with their succession planning needs for more than 70 years, from family governance advisory to philanthropy advisory services. As HSBC Private Banking clients, they also have access to the origination of capital financing and mergers and acquisitions advisory mandates, and HSBC-led capital market transactions.”

HSBC has also been good at addressing the particular needs of different national markets – this year it was highly commended in the Best Private Bank in the UK category. 

  • Best Private Bank in Singapore
  • Best Private Bank in Indonesia
  • Winner: Bank of Singapore

Bank of Singapore is experiencing some serious growth. By 2016, assets under management grew by almost 45% from the previous year to reach $79bn.  

Some 20% of this was down to organic growth, but the bank completed the acquisition of Barclays’ wealth business in Singapore and Hong Kong in November 2016, which saw the transfer of $13bn in client assets. Revenue was up by 15%, with net profit increasing by 13%.

Bank of Singapore prides itself on having a prudent and disciplined cost management approach. It claims to focus resources only in markets where it believes it can succeed – for example in south-east Asia, Greater China and the Middle East, specifically the Gulf Co-operation Council countries – instead of trying to grow in markets where it does not possess key advantages.

Although the bank is very much rooted in Asia, it claims to be a truly global firm, with its open architecture platform seeing it partner with strategic providers across the globe. Headquartered in Singapore, the bank also has offices in Hong Kong, Manila and Dubai.

With the majority of private wealth in Asia being generated by entrepreneurs, meeting the needs of this customer base is vital for any wealth manager searching for success. Bank of Singapore believes these clients are looking for help with both their personal finances and business needs, and claims its relationship with its parent company, OCBC Bank, allows it to offer entrepreneurs a wide range of services in both areas. 

“Winning the Best Private Bank in Singapore award is a testament of the strengths of our products, our people and our brand,” says Oliver Denis, global market head, Singapore, international, Thailand and Indo-China at Bank of Singapore. “To be picked as the winner among so many established global and Asian private banks located in one of the leading financial hubs in the world and in our own turf – Singapore – is truly an honour.”  

  • Best Private Bank in Malaysia
  • Winner: CIMB Private Banking

Despite being highly competitive, Malaysia’s private banking sector struggles with lack of scale, high costs of operations, stringent regulations and a ‘semi-closed’ market. 

What differentiates CIMB is its universal banking proposition, according to Carolyn Leng, head of CIMB Private Banking, Malaysia. “This gives us a competitive advantage over independent private banks due to our vast and highly specialised resources and capabilities for high-net-worth clients,” she says. Its integrated banking model allows catering to both personal and business client needs, while the bank’s Association of South-east Asian Nations footprint facilitates clients’ regional expansion.

Over the past couple of years, the Malaysian private bank, which manages more than RM30bn ($7.1bn) in client assets, has improved collaboration with its investment banking and corporate banking, setting up a dedicated team driving group-wide cross-divisional initiatives, and introducing investment consultants, who work alongside private bankers.

Cross-divisional capabilities have strengthened the relationship with clients, particularly with large corporations, and contributed to 21% of the private bank’s overall revenue in 2016.

The private bank, which targets clients with minimum assets of RM20m, provides “a holistic approach to servicing entrepreneurs on aspects such as exiting a business, building capital and business succession planning,” says Ms Leng. 

The 2015 merger between the private bank and CIMB’s private trustee arm – specialising in estate and succession planning – gave clients access to a wider range of wealth management solutions and services. 

The bank’s strong presence in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia brings opportunities such as cross-border credit facilities, allowing clients to pledge Malaysian assets as collateral and draw down from the different countries. 

To overcome regulation restrictions and limitations in offering products that are not licensed onshore, the private bank has partnered with key local fund management companies with foreign investment capabilities.

“Our partnerships with foreign solution providers have expanded our offerings to cater to multi-assets and multi-currencies which span across the global market,” says Ms Leng. 

  • Best Private Bank in Korea
  • Winner: KEB Hana Bank

Hana Bank already possessed the most high-net-worth individual (HNWI) clients of any South Korean bank prior to its 2015 merger with Korea Exchange Bank, but that tie-up saw the new entity consolidate its domestic lead while expanding its global network to 151 locations in 24 countries.

Further “strategic” growth plans are in the pipeline, according to senior manager Edward-Kwonseok Son, with three Gold Club Private Banking Centres in Daejeon, Daegu and Kwangju to expand to cater to local HNWI demand. “We are also constructing two International Private Banking Centres within Korea, in Jeju and Busan, and plan to launch more centres abroad in Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Canada and the US.” 

Private banking services have been extended to cater to affluent clients, with more than 1500 VIP advisers assigned to retail branches to meet growing demand for wealth management services.

Another area of development has been in the robo-advice arena, with the launch of its HAI Robo platform, following an 18-month development period. Mr Son says the bank sees the undoubted potential that technology brings to the wealth management sector, but admits to being surprised by the momentum gathered by its own service, with assets under management reaching $15m by the end of August.

When it comes to technology, KEB Hana firmly believes in a hybrid model which allows clients to access the digital tools that facilitate self-investing, but also human advice on a periodic basis, or as much as they deem necessary. 

“We believe in combining the best of both worlds – the low cost and ease of access of digital platforms along with real-life human advisers’ expertise in handling more complex scenarios,” says Mr Son.

With the average age of KEB Hana’s private banking clients a relatively advanced 65, the adoption of technology certainly appears to be one way to bring a younger generation into the fold. 

  • Best Private Bank in Taiwan
  • Winner: Taipei Fubon Bank

Clients of the wealth management arm of Taipei Fubon Bank can relax; a team of ‘kung-fu pandas’ ensures that the bank, including its wealth management arm, remains innovative. Such is the nickname of the team formed by employees from different departments, which looks at encouraging innovation.

Outside this team, everyone is rewarded for good ideas, through an innovation reward programme which encourages employees to make proposals about initiating new business, improving operational efficiency or creating a better customer experience. 

“In the banking industry, innovation is not the work of lone geniuses but the high-value work done in teams,” says Morris Huang, senior executive vice-president for retail banking, including the private bank, at Taipei Fubon Bank. “With better collaboration among departments, information and resources can flow freely to facilitate improvement and innovation.”

As an example of this innovation, Mr Huang notes that the bank was the first in Taiwan to set up a real-time digital platform for trading overseas stocks and exchange-traded funds.

As the winner of the Best Private Bank in Taiwan category, Taipei Fubon Bank is in a position to gain further advantage in a growing market. The number of people with assets of $1m or more grew 11.9% in the country in 2016 – the third fastest growth in the Asia-Pacific region, according to French management consulting firm Capgemini’s Wealth Report 2017.

Mr Huang thinks the amount of wealth in Taiwan will grow further as major economies around the world adopt the Common Reporting Standard in 2018. Experts expect this crackdown on tax evasion to prompt wealthy people to repatriate their assets back onshore. “There are expectations that under this new standard, the overseas assets of many wealthy Taiwanese families and business owners will return to Taiwan, boosting demand for high-wealth management services,” he says.

But even if this money is repatriated, most of it is unlikely to be invested on the island. “For the majority of clients, their holdings of Taiwan dollar-denominated assets constitute a relatively low share of their portfolios,” adds Mr Huang. “Though Taipei Fubon Bank is based in Taiwan, we have an international vision and professional experience developed over years of operating in global markets.”  

  • Best Private Bank in Thailand
  • Winner: Siam Commercial Bank

Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) is on an ambitious and thus far successful drive to increase the number of clients in its private bank, building on its large client base as a commercial bank.

“The growth in the number of clients comes from synergy across the bank,” the bank says in its submission to the awards. It has a “strategic play” to “leverage existing relationships with SCB Group to grow our private banking business”.

An important part of the bank’s mentality is its consciousness that it is serving entrepreneurs. “As the majority of our clients are entrepreneurs, integration between business and personal needs is inevitably essential,” says the bank. In line with this, in 2016 it began a referral programme between the wholesale and private banks, pairing up team managers “to provide a seamless banking experience”. 

SCB also notes that its private bankers are trained in corporate finance and investment banking “in order to understand and serve entrepreneur clients according to their needs”.

The private bank has given a lot of thought to the prevailing international lower yield environment. This leaves clients on the horns of a dilemma. “Traditional sources of return, such as deposits or government bonds, are no longer sufficient to meet high-net-worth-individuals’ expectations,” notes the bank. “At the same time, a singular focus on highest yield instruments could expose investors to downside risks, as the global economy remains fragile.”

To help its clients navigate such markets, it advises dynamic asset allocation. The bank explains: “Customising mixed-asset portfolios of fixed income, equities and other income-generating securities increases the likeliness of achieving a specific level of sustainable income in changing market environments, while tailoring for their specific tolerance of investment risks or volatility.” 

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

Last year saw big changes at Akbank, with the bank deciding to reduce the number of clients, branches and staff. Assets under management also fell, partially due to this reorganisation, but also due to the Turkish lira depreciating against the dollar.

The hope is to attract a more niche clientele by offering a more sophisticated service, generating a higher profit per client ratio in the process. The launch of a new ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) segment, with a minimum account size of Tl3m ($840,000), was a key part of this reorganisation.

“By focusing on the service model and products for UHNW clients, we aim to upgrade the private banking service quality and target audience,” says Levent Celebioglu, executive vice president of corporate and private banking at Akbank. “By upgrading our minimum account opening limits we will be able to provide more qualified services to a smaller number of clients but with more wealth, through an efficient and profitable client wealth management model.”

Clients with wealth below the Tl3m limit will be classed as affluent clients. Private banking services are offered through seven dedicated private banking branches across Turkey, with five in Istanbul and one each in Ankara and Izmir. Private banking corners are also located in the Zorlu and Bursa branches.

Akbank’s clients are drawn from Turkey’s leading communities and families and mostly reside in Istanbul. The needs and demands of these individuals have evolved to a point where family wealth has became more important, explains Mr Celebioglu. 

“Turkey has been through a great deal in the past few years, and wealthy communities now want to protect and preserve their wealth and transfer it through the generations,” he says. The bank’s UHNW segment and its Next Generation Programme, which aims to educate the next generation on subjects such as investment diversification, the responsibility of wealth and philanthropy, both developed from this idea. 

  • Best Private Bank in the United Arab Emirates
  • Best Private Bank for Islamic Services
  • Winner: Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) has managed to attract new clients and increase market share, even in a tough operating environment. The bank now has a balanced customer base across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the northern Emirates.

ADIB, winner of two awards in the categories of Best Private Bank in the UAE and Best Private Bank for Islamic Services, has continued to invest significantly in customer experience, introducing new ways to enhance its offering to existing clients, as well as targeting new ones in both the expatriate and UAE national segments, through a strong emphasis on digital delivery.

ADIB has invested heavily in its digital infrastructure. “To that end our biggest transformation yet has been partnering with Fidor Bank to launch the region’s first community-based digital bank,” says Mohammed Azab, head of private banking at ADIB. “The new online platform is designed to fit the lifestyle of millennial consumers, as well as those looking for a digital offering that matches their banking needs.” 

When it comes to portfolio management, ADIB Private Banking is committed to open architecture and it does not offer discretionary asset management. It has developed a series of locally oriented advisory portfolios that focus on sukuk and domestic equities. Being an Islamic bank, it carefully evaluates all the products and services offered to clients to make sure they are in line with their shared values. 

Mr Azab admits Islamic banking still presents some challenges, highlighting the need for changing perceptions in order to become truly mainstream. “We are confident that we are on track to achieve this, as we did following our acquisition of Barclays Bank’s UAE retail operation [in 2014]. This was proof that customers of conventional banks can easily be integrated into an Islamic bank if we offer attractive products and an excellent customer experience,” he says.

“Our research shows that Islamic banks strike a chord with people, not because of religion, but because of ethics. People are even more willing to use Islamic financial services when banks demonstrate their ideals of partnership, respect for the interests of the customer, and simple, transparent and honest business practices.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Kuwait
  • Best Private Bank in Bahrain

Winner: Ahli United Bank

Ahli United Bank (AUB) has 140 branches across Bahrain, the UK, Kuwait, Egypt, Oman, Iraq, Libya and the United Arab Emirates. In March 2016, the bank launched its operations in the Dubai International Financial Centre to offer private banking, wealth management, corporate banking treasury, trade finance and cross-border products and services to clients based in the UAE and the Middle East. 

As of December 2016, assets under management reached $3.4bn, lower than the previous year, mainly due to the depreciation of sterling and the euro versus the dollar. The number of private banking and wealth management clients remained stable at just under 7000.

One of the bank’s main areas of focus in 2016 was to continue the implementation of its strategy of ‘creating value through segmentation’. AUB has a special focus on the ultra-high-net-worth segment and it is specifically targeting younger investors by providing best-in-class investment opportunities.

“We have introduced new products to our clients, keeping in mind their specific investment needs and risk appetite. One of our key initiatives [in 2016] was to develop a US real estate private equity product, and we launched our first product investing in US senior housing,” says Mark Hirst, the newly appointed deputy group CEO of the bank’s private banking and wealth management business.

AUB won two separate awards for Best Private Bank in Bahrain and Kuwait. “While we are very strong in both markets, one significant difference is that in Kuwait we are exclusively an Islamic bank, offering sharia-compliant products and services to our private banking clients. In Bahrain we offer both conventional and Islamic products and services,” says Mr Hirst.

AUB’s long-term plans include entering Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Switzerland, the aim being to become a stronger regional private banking player with global reach. 

  • Best Private Bank in Oman
  • Winner: Bank Muscat

Bank Muscat Private Banking has maintained a leading position in Oman for more than 15 years. According to the company, it is the only local bank offering the complete suite of private banking products and services, ranging from investment across asset classes, to offshore banking solutions and real estate investments. 

Bank Muscat has benefited from the rapid growth in private wealth across the Gulf Co-operation Council and Oman region over the past decade, attracting more than $850m in client assets. Despite the challenging economic environment, the business performed well in 2016, with significant growth both in terms of assets under management and fee income. 

Targeting clients with a minimum of $1m in assets, the bank offers a diversified suite of products and services across geographies and asset classes, including equity, fixed income, mutual funds and alternative investments. It also offers offshore banking and investment in real estate across various geographies through strategic global tie-ups.

Although the bank’s attention is currently on its Oman operations, its relationship managers service a diverse group of Omani and expatriate clients, from different regions and nationalities. The bank takes pride in the quality of its customer service and invests time and resources on the continuous development and training of team members.

  • Best Private Bank in Lebanon
  • Best Private Bank in the Middle East for Customer Service
  • Winner: Audi Private Bank

All private banks try to provide good customer service – it is a key priority within the industry in general. In winning Best Private Bank in the Middle East for Customer Service, therefore, Audi Private Bank has exceeded a bar that is already set very high.

Audi Private Bank is the largest wealth manager in the relatively fragmented Lebanese market, which is characterised by standalone players. International banks have a relatively small market share, with some deciding in recent years that the Lebanese market is too small to be covered locally, according to an assessment by Audi Private Bank of the market that echoes the views of other observers. It is also, once again, judged Best Private Bank in Lebanon.

The bank credits its strong customer service partly to its proximity to the client. The relationship manager meets their client on a regular basis, but in addition, the investment adviser who prepares the portfolio review is most often in Lebanon too.

Another important part of its customer service is to inject a note of caution into the approach of its clients. “We tend to be cautious in our asset allocation and while advising clients on managing their money,” says a spokesperson at the bank. “We prefer to have a longer term vision and sometimes even to temper our clients’ willingness to take risks in view of upcoming market turbulence. We also practise diversification and limit the use of leverage when the portfolio doesn’t have the appropriate hedges or ability to take risks.”

The bank makes much of its close monitoring of relationship managers through a new business intelligence tool. However, it is keen to emphasise that rather than using this as an engine for hiring and firing, “we are little inclined to increase staff volatility as one of our key strengths is the strong and durable relationship our bankers build with their clients”, says the spokesperson. Instead, “we prefer to look for solutions to boost relationship manager performance with the use of training and coaching, and of increased assistance from the investment office”.

  • Best Private Bank in Belgium
  • Winner: BNP Paribas Fortis
  • Best Private Bank in France
  • Best Private Bank for Use of Technology
  • Winner: BNP Paribas Wealth Management

Client assets at BNP Paribas Wealth Management are steadily creeping up, with another $15bn of net new money added during 2016, reaching a total of $390bn, 75% of which is sourced from European families.

Unlike most competitors, the French bank is now creating a truly pan-European wealth management footprint, with ambitions in at least 10 countries, and centres for high-net-worth individuals having been opened in France, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg. The bank has also trained 120 specialist relationship managers to service the top tier of its clientele, providing expertise in corporate advisory, structuring and jet finance. They are also providing advice in key areas which the most wealthy private clients now typically demand of their banks, including private equity, real estate (BNP Paribas prides itself in expertise on French rural properties), socially responsible investing and philanthropy.

BNP Paribas has also been involved in a major push on attracting and servicing entrepreneurs, particularly working on solutions for family offices, next-generation members and female clients, in conjunction with the improvement and re-invention of the client experience through digitisation and partnership with fintechs.

During the past two years, the bank has been busy hosting innovation groups, working with 100 key clients in locations including Brussels, Luxembourg, Paris and Geneva, creating digital solutions built in dedicated spaces described as ‘factories’. These have included: digital applications which can connect ‘Mega Wealth’ clients with assets exceeding Ä100m, allowing them to share investment ideas and swap details of projects and assets; a biometric pass allowing access to all bank services through voice, digital signature and facial recognition; and an advisory app giving clients direct details about the bank’s ‘buy’ recommendations.

This latter strategy, which has moved into the realm of ‘predictive behaviours’, has involved hiring close to 20 data scientists and analysts in Hong Kong. “We are now making better use of data,” says Vincent Lecomte, co-head of BNP Paribas Wealth Management. 

  • Best Private Bank in Germany
  • Winner: Berenberg

One might expect a bank that has survived for 427 years to know something about the preservation of wealth. Judged by its strong reputation in the market, Berenberg, the second oldest bank in the world, has indeed learned a great deal about how to help wealthy families to survive and prosper. Berenberg’s wealth management division has been judged Best Private Bank in Germany for the seventh year in a row.

However, Hans-Walter Peters, spokesman of the managing partners, is keen not to overemphasise the bank’s history. “Four hundred and twenty-seven years of existence is a unique position, but you also have to serve your clients in the best way,” he says. “Our clients know Berenberg as a reliable and stable partner that does not only mention its long history, but also has a strong view into the future.”

The man at the helm as the private banking arm sails into the future is Henning Gebhardt, who joined Berenberg as head of wealth and asset management in January 2017. Mr Gebhardt, a former investment strategist at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, is a high-profile figure in Germany, where he is nicknamed Mr Stock.

Under Mr Gebhardt, Berenberg’s wealth management division is simplifying some investment strategies. “Within wealth and asset management some changes are currently discussed to reduce the complexity of the product offering and to enhance the investment processes,” says Berenberg in its submission. “Through these measures we will strengthen our expertise to the benefit of our clients. In this context, we will close our standardised foreign currency strategies denominated in US dollars and pounds and focus on individual portfolios in this field.” 

Private banks talk often of their focus on keeping the number of clients-based staff high, but Berenberg, which managed $46bn of high-net-worth individual assets at the end of 2016, makes the case for the importance of keeping up the numbers elsewhere too. Although the total number of staff in private banking rose in 2016, the number of client-facing staff fell slightly. “We are investing in equity analysts, fund managers, etc,” explains the bank. “These are all not client-facing professionals, but our clients benefit from their work and from our expertise.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Italy
  • Winner: Banca Generali

Majority owned by Assicurazioni Generali, one of the biggest insurers in the world, Banca Generali has won the Italian award for the second year in a row, in addition to picking up the trophy in 2012. It manages more than €52bn in client assets, of which the majority is sourced from wealthy individuals owning at least €500,000 in financial assets. This client segment is the key target for the bank, which also serves a more retail-oriented client base. 

Over the past four years, assets sourced from high-net-worth individuals almost doubled, and today represent 63% of total client assets at the bank. “We expect this trend to continue, so we are aiming at further developing our added-value services and bespoke offering to wealthy clients,” says Gian Maria Mossa, CEO and general manager at Banca Generali.

The bank is reaping the benefits of its new business model, providing “holistic advice” to the wealthy, including corporate finance, real estate and generational transfer. It also continues to expand its army of financial advisers, totalling 1900 today, recruiting private bankers from struggling Italian and international competitors in the country, while innovating on the product side. 

In 2016, Banca Generali ranked first in the Italian private banking market in terms of net new money, which totalled Ä5.7bn, representing a growth rate of 22% on 2015. The positive trend is set to continue this year, supported by the strong popularity of the bank’s broadly diversified managed solutions, or ‘wrappers’, which include both mutual funds, spanning across several fund managers and asset classes, as well as insurance products. 

Clients’ trust in traditional banking has been eroded, while the tax burden on real estate and low returns from government bonds have left investors with few alternatives for protecting their wealth, says Mr Motta. 

Digitisation, which simplifies and makes the advisory process more efficient, is a key pillar for the bank. Last year, it launched a new digital collaboration service, allowing clients to place orders for transactions remotely, through their financial advisers. Also, taking inspiration from the iTunes business model, the bank introduced a new solution, ‘store’, which gives clients access to various apps and services for market and portfolio analysis. It recently announced an agreement with Saxo Bank to establish an “exclusive partnership” to offer online trading and digital services. 

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

While the European private banking market continues to consolidate, KBL European Private Bankers (EPB) is expanding its reach through a growth strategy that combines organic, semi-organic and external initiatives. In the past two years, the bank, which is headquartered in Luxembourg and operates in 50 cities across Europe, has made four acquisitions in its existing markets, providing greater scale and resources. 

In 2016 it acquired private bank Insinger de Beaufort in the Netherlands – with the intention of merging it with Theodoor Gilissen, a Dutch member of KBL EPB, subject to regulatory approval. 

The merged entity will have a combined assets under management (AuM) of more than Ä20bn, and will become “one of the strongest pure-play private banks in the Netherlands”, predicts Quentin Vercauteren Drubbel, head of wealth management at KBL EPB.

More recently, KBL EPB acquired the Roberts Partnership, a UK-based financial planning and wealth management firm, which added 20 staff and more than Ä500m in AuM to Brown Shipley, KBL EPB’s UK affiliate.

The group also moved forward on the integration of a long-term, large-scale project in partnership with Lombard Odier. Both Banque Puilaetco Dewaay Luxembourg, a boutique private bank, and KBL Richelieu in France, migrated to the new IT platform, while KBL EPB introduced it at its headquarters in mid-2017.

The bank also expanded its portfolio management service offering, launching the Richelieu Investme nt Fund range. 

“Whether managing today’s wealth or structuring tomorrow’s inheritance, KBL EPB clients benefit from a suite of open, independent solutions, tailored to their specific needs – backed by a client-centric approach, founded upon offering proximity, agility and personalised service,” says Mr Drubbel.

During 2016, private banking AuM rose by €2.1bn to €50.8bn, and was boosted to €60.5bn by the acquisition of Insinger de Beaufort, which was finalised in January this year.

  • Best Private Bank in Sweden
  • Winner: SEB Private Banking

The advent of MiFID II has been a particular focus of attention for private banks across Europe. For SEB Private Banking (SEB PB), preparations for the new regulatory environment have resulted in a review of its pricing models and offerings.

“Transparency and trust are important cornerstones of our business. We are using the opportunity brought by MiFID II to clarify our offering to our clients, so they know what they get and how much they pay for it,” says Martin Gärtner, head of SEB PB.

Being large in the Nordics but small globally can be a challenge when it comes to digitisation. “In a sense, new regulation such as MiFID II has forced us to focus more on our core, and to brutally prioritise among focus areas and activities,” adds Mr Gärtner.

The bank prides itself on its close relationship with clients. “Last year was filled with abnormal market conditions and unexpected events,” explains Mr Gärtner. “Sub-zero interest rates in core private banking markets, Brexit, Donald Trump winning the US presidential election, collapsing oil prices at the start of the year, and equity markets hovering in negative territory for 10 out of 12 months, to name a few. For us this meant one thing more than anything else: staying close to our customers.” Being prepared and staffed to respond to any queries and provide timely information during these uncertain times was key.

Also, responding to client demands the firm has increased its focus on sustainability. SEB PB offers a range of sustainable funds within both equities and fixed income, including specific strategies for green bonds and microfinance. “In 2016, we continued our journey with the integration of environmental and social governance in all our portfolio management teams and started to co-operate with Hermes EOS, who will engage with companies outside Scandinavia on our behalf,” says Mr Gärtner.

In terms of automated advice, one of the most important steps for the bank was the investment in the private finance app Tink. The app enables customers to keep track of their money by automatic categorisation of transaction data, allowing for the analysis of spending patterns. 

“The core of our strategy is the same as it has been for quite some time: to serve Nordic and Baltic clients domestically or follow them abroad. We still believe we have unparalleled strength in doing so in our chosen target markets,” says Mr Gärtner.  

  • Best Private Bank in the Netherlands
  • Winner: ING Private Banking

ING, which in 2016 experienced healthy net new money and rising profits, has put a lot of effort into differentiating the customer experience and has made good progress towards becoming ‘a true omnichannel private bank’. It has also introduced a new flexible approach to work, both at the level of head office and sales network. 

“This has allowed us to respond much faster to changes and deliver new propositions faster, empowering our clients to stay a step ahead in life and in business,” says Ruud van Dusschoten, head of ING Private Banking. Along with the “strong human touch” in the private banking offering, there is an increasing focus on developing digital capabilities, he adds. 

“In the Netherlands, the goal goes as far as to reinvent private banking and set new standards, by creating a truly seamless omnichannel private banking experience. Digital delivery of our services is done whenever it is possible and desired by the client,” says Mr van Dusschoten.

Looking forward, the plan is to deliver one digital banking platform across Belgium and the Netherlands, with one integrated banking platform and a harmonised business model. “To continue to lead in digital banking, we need to offer a better customer experience, which is instant, personal, frictionless and relevant.”

The bank also uses data intelligence to map and model customer behaviour, for example by introducing ‘a disciplined lead approach’. “Big data modelling helps us to predict the movement of banking prospects while the smart use of our client-related data drives decision making and generates analytical insights, which allows for personalised customer interactions,” explains Mr van Dusschoten.

Last year, the private bank introduced an exclusive, invitation-only private banking club for its top clients, offering a 24/7 personal assistant, helping clients achieve their banking and non-banking goals. A new, limited credit card service has given clients access to concierge services and airport lounges worldwide.  

  • Best Private Bank in Denmark
  • Winner: Nykredit Private Banking

Maintaining quality at a time of high growth can often be a difficult trick to pull off, but Nykredit is clearly managing this in its home market of Denmark.

In late 2015, Nykredit, the country’s biggest lender, decided to expand its private banking programme, which was hitherto restricted to a single office in Copenhagen that targeted clients with assets of more than DKr10m ($1.6m).

It created two segments. ‘Private Banking’ is for clients with assets under management of DKr2m to DKr7m, while the ‘Private Banking Elite’ division is for people with investable assets of more than DKr7m. Private Banking is now run out of 10 cities across Denmark. This is, as the bank puts it in its submission, part of its strategy of “getting closer to the customers”. Private Banking Elite operates in Copenhagen and Aarhus.

Clients in Private Banking have their own wealth planner, and also offer direct access to investment advisory services and other areas of specialism. Those in Private Banking Elite may be assigned a personal Nykredit Markets adviser, and clients with significant investable funds may be assigned a personal asset management adviser.

Assets under management for the Private Banking Elite division have grown more rapidly than for the private bank as a whole, but Nykredit is looking in particular for the very biggest fish to fry: it has hired new relationship managers for its Private Banking Elite Ultima + programme, designed for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. 

Asked how Nykredit Private Banking has beaten off more famous international rivals to win the award of Best Private Bank in Denmark, the bank says: “We have been in the Danish market for many years, building a growing footprint in the Danish private banking market.” 

  • Best Private Bank in Portugal
  • Winner: BPI

The difficult economic environment in Europe over the past few years has provided BPI with an opportunity to differentiate itself from its competitors. 

The winner of this year’s Best Private Bank in Portugal award has directed its attention to the development of a clear value proposition, by reducing portfolio and product complexity, offering diversification in terms of booking centres, and investing in technology to comply with growing technical and regulatory challenges. 

One such challenge is the arrival of MiFID II in January 2018. According to António Luna Vaz, head of BPI Private Banking, the business is in good shape to embrace the new regulatory framework. The bank already provides advice following the transparency and clarity requirements imposed by MiFID II, and both the bank’s IT systems and team members are ready for the new rules.

“What I think is going to be a challenge for the Portuguese industry is that we don’t have many clients who are willing to pay for sophisticated advisory services,” says Mr Luna Vaz. “They pay for discretionary but, in terms of mindset, they don’t pay for advisory.” 

He highlights the need for other players in the market to work together to try and change this perception, so the concept of paying for first-class, sophisticated advice becomes the norm.  

Creating strong and efficient support teams remains a key factor for achieving front-office excellence and high levels of service. BPI has adapted its business model to allow for relationship managers to spend more than half their time with clients.

BPI has been investing heavily in IT and will continue to do so in the future. During the course of 2016, it developed a tool which fully integrates wealth management activities, covering administration, customer relationship management and portfolio management. The bank also developed an IT platform called ‘GoBanking’, which allows relationship managers to be available anytime and anywhere, through a mobile workstation. 

“We are planning to launch a website for advisory, where clients will have access to all our information, in terms of updates on financial markets, economic views, news, and our recommendations for asset allocation,” says Mr Luna Vaz. 

  • Best Private Bank in Greece
  • Winner: Eurobank

The gradual digitisation of key front-office client services, the broadening of its product and service offering, as well as the introduction of ‘high-end’ solutions through its Luxembourg subsidiary, have enabled Eurobank to better meet client needs, and achieve higher customer satisfaction rates over the past year.  

Such initiatives have also enhanced the bank’s financial robustness, and improved its return on assets performance, which now stands at 0.85% for the entire business, spread evenly across assets classes and instrument types. This ensures “a proper asset allocation in client portfolios, with specific emphasis placed on annuity-type income, which creates streams of revenues that last for multiple cycles”, says Alexandros Tsourinakis, head of private banking, Greece, at Eurobank.

Since the Greek fiscal crisis erupted in 2010, Eurobank has “systematically” provided clients with “a web of information tools” aimed at keeping them abreast of developments, according to the bank. While appetite for risk has gradually returned, clients are still wary about the ability of the local economy to achieve a sustainable growth pattern. 

“Where we see a growth opportunity in private banking is in Greek clients’ funds that reside in competing institutions outside of Greece,” says Mr Tsourinakis. For this reason, the bank has reproduced its local offering at its subsidiary ERB Private Bank Luxembourg. Here it can accommodate new client assets that originate from other European or overseas destinations. 

Eurobank is the only institution among local peers with such a strategic advantage, according to Mr Tsourinakis, and thus is an “enviable position for growth”. The bank, which also has a subsidiary in Cyprus, started offering private banking services in London through a branch of the Luxembourg bank in 2016.

Also during 2016, Eurobank expanded its offering of lifestyle services, which included exclusive access to airport lounges, tickets to ‘highly prized events’, closed-circle events on selective topics, and access to Greek personalities in various fields. 

“These lifestyle services help us strengthen our ties with the top tier of our most loyal and profitable client segments, while at the same time offering truly unique non-financial rewards, which are usually hard to put together on an individual basis,” says Mr Tsourinakis.   

  • Best Private Bank in Andorra
  • Winner: Crèdit Andorrà

The tiny Pyrrenean state of Andorra has had a turbulent time in some respects recently. The country has agreed to end banking secrecy, approving the automatic sharing of information on accounts held by non-residents.

Crèdit Andorrà, the country’s leading bank and winner in the Best Private Bank in Andorra category, has navigated these issues well, achieving an overall rate of satisfaction among private banking clients of 8.75 out of 10.

“Our key pillars are good governance and responsibility, focusing our management on continuously improving the quality of our services and, through our activity, contributing to the dynamism of Andorra’s economy,” says a spokesperson at the bank. “Andorra is a competitive country that is developing and growing constantly. It has modernised and consolidated its tax system in order to adapt to the European context, and has sound public finances.” 

Driven partly by tax and regulatory changes, Crèdit Andorrà has also started an innovation plan that will change its business model. This is partly to fit with all the relevant regulations, including the International Financial Reporting Standards and Basel III. However, it also hopes to bring added value through the creation of digital services, and to “transform the traditional advisory model” to incorporate the new legal and other requirements.

  • Best Private Bank in Liechtenstein
  • Best Private Bank for Growth Strategy
  • Winner: LGT

Many private banks like to cultivate an impression of grandeur, but few can boast that they are owned by a royal family. LGT, a private banker and asset manager, is an exception: it began as a family office for the Liechtenstein princely family, which remains its sole shareholder. 

HSH Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, a member of the royal family, is LGT’s overall CEO, with Thomas Piske the CEO of the private banking unit. Mr Piske regards the ownership structure of LGT, winner of Best Private Bank in Liechtenstein and the award for Growth Strategy, and highly commended in the SRI/Impact Investing category, as “a very important success factor”. 

“The combination of LGT’s governance structure, our clear business focus on investment management and our culture provide us with a very special edge,” says Mr Piske. “To have just one shareholder in the form of a foundation which is linked to the Liechtenstein princely family creates a highly stable and efficient governance structure.” 

The bank’s successful growth strategy is all the more striking because of the temptation among banks that are market leaders in their own particular home market to opt for an easy life based on domestic success.

In particular, many private banks have found it difficult to break into Asia, but LGT’s Asian private banking assets increased by an annualised rate of 17% between 2009 and 2016. Its Asian private banking assets have reached $50bn, based partly on this organic growth and partly on its acquisition of ABN Amro’s private banking business in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai in 2016. Mr Piske credits this to having a long-term focus. 

“We have been operating in Asia without interruption for more than 30 years and have a very stable management team there. During that time, we have continuously expanded the business, which gives us credibility,” he says.

Mr Piske also thinks the firm’s royal pedigree goes down well in Asia. As he puts it: “We have an interesting story to tell: our owner, the princely house of Liechtenstein, has built, preserved and developed its wealth over a period of 900 years. That is an impressive track record.”

Some acquisitions by other private banks have gone badly over the years, but LGT’s in Asia and other markets have generally gone well, so far. It has also acquired Vestra in London. “Cultural fit is a very important factor for us when it comes to acquisitions,” says Mr Piske. “During the due diligence process, we very carefully consider whether management and the employees are a good fit for us. That isn’t something that can be quantified or determined precisely. Instead, it often depends on the various impressions we get during the various discussions and interactions.”

In the socially responsible investing field, the private bank has developed the LGT Sustainability Rating, which provides transparency in terms of the sustainability characteristics of equities, bonds, funds and exchange-traded funds using clearly defined criteria and a broad pool of data. 

  • Best Private Bank in the UK
  • Best Private Bank in Europe for Succession Planning
  • Winner: Coutts

Coutts, which manages £18bn ($23.7bn) for more than 60,000 clients, is targeting clearly defined groups in both its marketing push and when structuring its servicing proposition for different niches. This means the UK bank is looking increasingly at how it works with professional practitioners, company executives, international business people, landowners, sports stars and entertainers. The idea is to be able to service clients with more tailored advice across their full family balance sheets. 

Bank bosses believe a key weapon is expertise in succession planning, which helps empower clients to develop a vision and strategy for their family’s future,
also enabling the preparation of future generations to run businesses and philanthropic interests.

Indeed, Coutts insiders like to talk about two sides of the wealth succession coin – one focusing on technical solutions such as wills and trusts, the other on both strategic and emotional questions such as developing a family strategy and defining the purpose of their wealth. 

“Aside from ensuring they have enough to support their lifestyle for the rest of their life, many clients look to use ‘surplus’ wealth to support the next generation, invest in business start-ups or support the charitable causes or communities that they care about,” says Lenka Setkova, executive director of the Coutts Institute.

The bank also warns that sound structures and planning must be in place in order to avoid mistakes or “unintended consequences” of passing on wealth to the next generation, family, friends or charities. 

  • Best Private Bank in Bulgaria
  • Best Private Bank in Slovakia
  • Winner: UniCredit CEE Private Banking

UniCredit CEE Private Banking serves nine countries across central and eastern Europe. Its approach to private banking benefits from following the UniCredit Global Private Banking Strategy, combined with a local presence and deep understanding of the different markets and client segments in the region.

The bank defines its business model as one that combines a ‘need-based’ advisory approach with a global investment strategy. 

“Through our need-based advisory we aim not only to identify the current needs of our clients, but also the ones they would have from a broader life perspective,” says Nadejda Pavlova-Nincheva, head of private banking at UniCredit Bulbank. “We want to create tailor-made solutions and, supported by a thorough understanding of clients’ needs, to foresee and develop new services that they might require in the future.”

Ms Pavlova-Nincheva attributes the growth of the bank’s business in Bulgaria to its focus on building trust and sustainable relationships with customers. Key growth strategies in the past years have been based on strengthening its existing competitive advantage by introducing new products, focusing on the best implementation of new regulations such as MiFID II.

In Slovakia, and under the current low interest rate environment, one of the main challenges faced by the bank is to provide attractive investment solutions to a clientele that is still very conservative. “We do this by offering open architecture funds and innovative structured products. Additionally, we support [our clients] in the field of wealth transfer to next generation,” says Roman Hajduk, head of private banking sales in Slovakia. 

Targeting the next generation of clients, UniCredit has developed a number of educational initiatives, such as its ‘Youngsters Academy’, which provides knowledge about business management, innovation and personal investment. Thanks to these initiatives, the bank can contribute positively to the development of family businesses, while establishing a long-term, sustainable co-operation between clients’ families and the bank.

“In addition to that, we are very committed to innovation and see a lot of space in the field of the development of applications that can be customised according to client needs, and are able to monitor market situations and provide advice,” says Mr Hajduk. 

  • Best Private Bank in Romania
  • Best Private Bank in Poland
  • Winner: Raiffeisen Bank International

Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) has a highly nuanced understanding of the different needs of different customers in different countries. This helps to explain its range of successes in this year’s awards.

In Romania, for example, where it has won the Best Private Bank award, “customers have a strong preference for basic investment instruments”, according to Fabian Stenzel, head of RBI’s international affluent and private banking division.

In Poland, on the other hand, where it has also won the award, “customers prefer more complex financial solutions such as unit-linked products”.

However, Mr Stenzel also understands what the two countries have in common. “Generally speaking, both markets are still quite young compared to western European markets regarding the private banking and wealth management business,” he says.

But then again, he is anxious not to generalise about the customers of any one country. “The product we sell is holistic advice,” says Mr Stenzel. “The outcome for the customers: tailor-made financial solutions.”

RBI has a strong brand in central and eastern Europe, and is continuing its expansion into new markets. Back in 2013 it successfully set up private banking in Croatia, and in 2018 it plans to offer wealth management in Serbia.

Mr Stenzel regards the private bank’s inclusion within a large universal bank, Raiffeisen Banking Group Austria, as an important part of its success. This status allows the banking group to match the service to the client. “As customer wealth grows and financial needs develop further, a customer enters the next segment to optimise and receive tailor-made banking services according to his or her growing financial demands,” says Mr Stenzel. 

“This way we cover the needs of basically all the customers, irrespective of their level of accumulated wealth. In this scheme, private banking naturally represents the highest and most granular level of customer service.” 

  • 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 European (CEE) region, managing Ä5.3bn in client assets. Hungary is by far its largest market, making up 78% of assets under management (AuM). In Hungary, the bank enjoyed an above-the-market AuM growth of 15.2% in 2016, maintaining its dominant market share of 34%.

“Our biggest success last year was that we were able to keep up the growth dynamics and preserve profitability at the same time,” says András Takács, managing director and head of wealth and investment management at OTP Private Banking. “It is a great achievement considering that wealth market trends and shrinking interest margins in the CEE region are putting big pressure on the profitability of private banking businesses.”

In 2016, OTP Private Banking shifted from a client number-based approach to an AuM-focused growth strategy, allowing relationship managers to spend more time on investment advisory and on acquiring new clients with higher AuM. 

OTP Bank has started a comprehensive digitalisation strategy with the view to service clients efficiently without the need to meet at a branch. Within that framework, the private bank is focusing on providing its clientele with new, innovative digital solutions. “In the recent past we have focused on the digitalisation of transaction management, while now our focus is on the digitalisation of the investment advisory process,” says Mr Takács.

“We have to face further challenges in the coming years, such as the increasing regulatory pressure and continuing decrease of profit margins,” he adds. “As an answer to these challenges, we have developed a five-year business strategy which targets both efficiency enhancement and growth preservation.” Among the many projects in progress is the implementation of a centralised virtual private banking hub.

OTP Bank’s small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment is also a source for the acquisition of new clients for the private bank. “Entrepreneurs and small business owners have both business and retail banking needs and they value a single point of contact. Recognising these needs, and uniquely on the Hungarian market, we set up a joint SME-private banking value proposition called ‘SME Gold’ package, offering a one-stop shop for this entrepreneurial segment,” says Mr Takács. 

  • Best Private Bank in the Czech Republic
  • Winner: KB Private Banking (Komercní Banka)

Komercní Banka is a local bank, and it regards this characteristic as key to its success. “Deep focus, specialisation and knowledge of the local market are our significant advantages,” says Petr Slab , director of private banking at Komercní, though he also notes that clients with “international investment needs” can use the worldwide network provided by Société Générale Private Banking, a sister company. Société Générale is the majority shareholder of Komercní Banka.

Komercní Banka Private Banking, 95% of whose clients are Czech citizens, has grown rapidly in recent years – outperforming the Czech market as a whole, according to Mr Slab .

Between 2013 and 2016 it recorded a compound annual growth rate of 13% assets under management, 22% for net banking income, and 9% for number of clients.

“There is a story behind the rise in client numbers and assets,” says Mr Slab . “In mid-2014, we were the first in the Czech market to set up a dedicated wealth planning and financing team focused on servicing successful business owners who seek either to transfer ownership from the first to the second generation or to sell their businesses. Three years later, new assets from company sales and dividend payouts became the main engine of our new assets.

“Another part of the story is our capability to offer innovative investment solutions, such as private equity club deals, and real estate club deals that invest in large multi-use buildings in Prague. In order to continue being the best partner for our clients, we are further developing our next-generation strategies.”

Komercní Banka Private Banking also achieves a high staff retention rate – something appreciated by all clients and all private banks. Asked how it has managed this, Mr Slab cites a concentration on internal recruitment. Most private bankers have worked there for 10 years plus. “Our teams are primarily composed of motivated internal top talents with a strong career record in the KB Group,” he says. 

  • Best Private Bank in Canada
  • Best Initiative of the Year in Relationship Management Technology in North America
  • Best Performing Private Bank
  • Winner: RBC Wealth Management

The strong financial performance reported by RBC in 2016, showing an increase in net income and assets under management of 35% and 14%, respectively, is testament to significant improvements made to its value proposition and client service. 

In Canada, the collaboration of the wealth business with the commercial banks aims to deepen relationships with business owners by discussing succession planning and financial goals and helping them plan for personal and business milestones. This has generated “strong traction and a significant uptick in the number of franchise clients, those having both a personal and business financial relationship with the bank”, says Doug Guzman, group head, RBC Wealth Management & RBC Insurance.

To address the substantial inter-generational wealth transfer expected to occur in the country over the next few years, the institution also launched a programme to help advisers support the needs of multi-generational families.

Drawing on results from its recent study – which found that 84% of women have full or joint responsibility for overseeing the family investment portfolio – a key focus for the bank has also been to train advisers to better understand nuances in preferences, attitudes and behaviours between female and male investors, while finding ways to better attract, retain and develop female advisers. 

A focus on client service, greater cross-business and cross-function collaboration, and continued investments in people and innovation were the key factors that helped the bank achieve the top spot in the Best Performing Private Bank category, according to Mr Guzman. The result emerged from key performance indicator quantitative analysis on private banks globally by Scorpio Partnership, the wealth management consultancy. 

The acquisition of City National, a US private and commercial bank, effective from the first quarter of 2016, enhances and complements RBC’s presence in the US, its “second home market”. 

The combination of the US wealth business, City National and its US capital markets business provides “a powerful and scalable engine for accelerated growth in the US”, says Mr Guzman.

The bank’s Advisor’s Virtual Assistant (AVA) application for iOS and Android devices launched in Canada and the US last year impressed our panel of judges as the Best Initiative of the Year in Relationship Management Technology in North America. 

AVA provides advisers with real-time access to client insights and the information they need to be more productive, while meeting clients’ evolving needs. 

“Going forward, we plan to continue to release new improvements and functionality for AVA, as we continue to invest in digital innovation to strengthen the client-advisor relationship,” says Mr Guzman. 

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

For BBVA Bancomer Banca Privada, part of the BBVA Group, 2016 was a year of growth, and one that saw many of the projects initiated in previous years coming to fruition. The bank, winner of the Best Private Bank in Mexico award, focused its strategy on improving service levels, developing its loans portfolio, and maximising returns for its clients.

During the course of the year, BBVA Bancomer revamped its ‘Experience Unica’ service model, in response to market changes and feedback from clients. The model aims to strengthen 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.

The bank also took a further step in servicing the ultra-high-net-worth segment by opening a dedicated office in Guadalajara in 2016, adding to the already established branches in Mexico City and Monterey. 

“The private banking sector in Mexico is growing fast and we are seeing more and more competition, both from local and global players. We are trying to remain competitive by expanding our product offering, improving our service levels and retaining talent,” says Salvador Sandoval, head of private banking at BBVA Bancomer.

In terms of expanding its product offering, the bank’s mutual fund strategy has improved significantly thanks to the ‘Fondos de Estrategias’ platform, which comprises three categories of funds: capital preservation, income, and capital growth. These include both proprietary and advised funds.

The bank launched the first private banking app in Mexico, which allows clients to access their portfolios, make wire transfers and reach their relationship managers through video conference or chat. “Many of our clients are 60-plus and some are reluctant to use new technologies, but others are already asking for it. We also know we need to cater for the younger generations, who might not be our clients right now but could be in the future,” says Mr Sandoval.

  • Best Private Bank in Chile
  • Winner: LarrainVial

LarrainVial’s main focus in 2016 continued to be aggressive growth in terms of assets under management and to increase recurring income in the medium to long term.

The bank, winner of the Best Private Bank in Chile award, services clients with a net worth of more than $1m. Recently, it has placed a renewed focus on expanding its investment product offering, adding a greater variety of products, including alternative investments.

“This has allowed us to grow, as well as bring better returns to our clients through an expanded product line,” says Gonzalo Córdova, head of wealth management at LarrainVial. Over recent years, the private bank has worked closely with other areas of the business, such as its corporate finance division and private equity subsidiary Activa. “This has enabled our higher net-worth clients access to special investments, such as controlling stakes in important local and foreign companies in industries such as healthcare and energy,” says Mr Córdova.

Through Activa, the private bank has been able to offer a large number of private equity funds in sectors such as mining, energy, agriculture, forestry and housing, with investments in Chile, Peru, Colombia and other Latin American countries.

LarrainVial’s portfolio management offering includes both advised and discretional portfolios, managed by separate teams which are independent from the commercial area. In 2016, the private bank deepened its relationship with the third-party product distribution team, meaning private clients were offered investment products that had traditionally been reserved for institutional investors.

“These are mainly alternative investments, including funds managed by many renowned global asset managers, such as Apollo, Landmark or Marathon. Thanks to these efforts, allocation to alternatives now represent 15% to 20% of our high-net-worth clients’ portfolios,” says Mr Córdova.

With the aim being to build a stronger, closer relationship with its clients, the bank frequently holds meetings and events where its wealth managers can provide any
information they might need. “This year we took it a step further with the creation of LV Lab, a special course in which our LarrainVial Estrategia team provides financial tools and knowledge for our clients, so they can make the best investment decisions,” says Mr Córdova. 

  • Best Private Bank in Colombia
  • Winner: BTG Pactual

The economic environment in 2016 in Colombia was marked by a steep rise in interest rates, the highest inflation level in two decades, and a devalued currency, a consequence of the transition towards an economy less dependent on oil, coal and gold. 

Political uncertainty has also dominated, with president Juan Manuel Santos’ popularity reaching an all-time low, a controversial peace process stuttering along and a tax reform being undertaken. The political crisis in Brazil also affected BTG Pactual’s corporate stability, causing strong headline risks to the franchise in Colombia, where confidence in the private banking industry was still recovering from a number of recent scandals. 

Nonetheless, BTG Pactual Colombia remained confident in its long-term strategy and fundamental core values, and managed to weather the storm. The bank, winner of this year’s Best Private Bank in Colombia award, operates as a fully fledged investment bank, providing support to clients in areas such as wealth management, asset management, investment banking and sales and trading, with strong local teams and a presence in all the most important regional markets.

 “We are focused on alpha-generating ideas, aiming at providing our clients with strategies that allow them to have investments with above par results,” says Juan Rafael Pérez, CEO of BTG Pactual Colombia. “Our global networks, with strong local teams, provide unique alternatives such as our Brazil Equity Funds or credit products, which are not available to pure local or non-regional banks.” 

Good recent results and positive feedback from clients validate BTG Pactual’s current approach to private banking in Colombia. “We promote a partnership and meritocratic structure that fully aligns the interest of the bank with our clients, and that creates a culture and philosophy that is unique to BTG Pactual,” says Mr Pérez. 

  • Best Private Bank in Bermuda
  • Winner: The Bank of NT Butterfield & Son

Butterfield was established in Bermuda as a private bank in 1858 and today the group’s operations span several jurisdictions encompassing community banking, wealth management and trust services. 

The group currently provides private banking services in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Guernsey, favouring a ‘high touch’ model with regular interactions between relationship managers and clients.

Crafting bespoke financial solutions for clients requires a thorough understanding of their sources of wealth along with their needs and priorities, according to Curtis Dickinson, group head of private banking at Butterfield. “We’ve found that the best way to achieve that is with face-to-face meetings, both at the outset of the relationship and at checkpoint intervals. This creates a familiarity that fosters trust and enables us to keep on top of changes in our clients’ family and financial circumstances so that we can be sure we’re always providing the best products and services for their needs,” he says. 

In September 2016, Butterfield completed a successful initial public offering (IPO) of shares on the New York Stock Exchange, along with a follow-on offering in 2017. 

“Being listed on the world’s largest, most active stock exchange provides the bank with long-term access to international capital, and with a portion of the proceeds of the IPO having been used to retire a relatively expensive tranche of preferred shares, the bank now has greater flexibility in its ability to deploy capital in pursuit of growth opportunities,” he says.    

In 2016, Butterfield acquired the private banking and investment management operations of HSBC Bermuda, as well as its trust subsidiary, Bermuda Trust Company Ltd. The transaction doubled the size of Butterfield’s private wealth business in Bermuda, making the bank the largest provider of wealth management services on the island.

And further growth is very much a possibility, according to Mr Dickinson. “We have made significant acquisitions over the past few years in the areas of trust, banking and private client wealth management, in jurisdictions we know well and in which we are able to realise economies of scale. We will continue to explore similar opportunities,” he says.  

  • Best Private Bank in South Africa
  • Winner: Investec

In many national private banking markets, the leading player – and the winner in Global Private Banking Awards – is a local bank rather than an international one. In the case of South Africa, the winner is neither – or, perhaps, both.

Investec has offices around the world, including London, Zurich, Dublin and Hong Kong, as well as local branches.

“Many local investment houses have access to foreign asset management capabilities,” says a spokesman for the wealth manager. “What we believe sets us apart is that our teams in our different offices – London, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Zurich, Dublin, Hong Kong and elsewhere – collectively pool their international investment expertise to set a global investment strategy. This gives a broad range of perspectives on global risk and opportunities, which guides all of our portfolios.”

This international dimension is all the more important because of recent events affecting the wealth manager’s South African clients. “The relaxation of exchange controls in recent years has made it far easier for South Africans to invest offshore, gain exposure to global investment opportunities and markets, and allow them to diversify their portfolios,” says the bank.

Despite these opportunities, now is not the easiest time to be a high-net-worth individual in South Africa, given lower economic growth and political turmoil – even if South Africans now find it easier, because of the liberalisation of exchange controls, to counteract rand weakness through overseas investment. If it is not the easiest time to be a wealthy person in the country, by extension it is probably not the easiest time to be a wealth manager.

Asked how it helps its clients navigate the country’s current economic and political problems, the private bank is diplomatic, although its comments could be taken as a criticism of the government’s recent attempts to rein in monetary independence and do the opposite with its fiscal policy. The bank says: “As a member of the South African Banking Association and of Business Leadership South Africa, it is Investec’s corporate responsibility to continue our engagement with government on monetary independence, financial discipline and inclusive growth.”

  • Best Private Bank in Nigeria
  • Best Private Bank in Ghana
  • Best Private Bank in Kenya
  • Best Private Bank in Africa for Customer Service
  • Winner: Standard Bank Wealth and Investment

Standard Bank’s value proposition is based on defining clients’ ‘wealth quotient’, which involves assessing each aspect of their total wealth needs to be able to offer personalised services throughout various life stages. 

“This approach helps position our solutions and offerings in a way that is astute, pragmatic and empowering, rather than in a way that is standardised, irrelevant and impersonal,” says Chris Browne, global head, wealth and investment, at the South African bank. But managing money is far from becoming commoditised. “It is not an easy task matching assets to liabilities to ensure financial goals are met and then being flexible enough to update and reassess regularly, as circumstances changes,” says Mr Browne.

One of the private bank’s core pillars is to provide a ‘universal financial proposition’ to clients, working closely with other units, while technology innovation, such as the foreign exchange app introduced in 2016, aims to give clients “more direct power over and access to their financial affairs”.

The wealth and investment unit – which has a presence throughout South Africa, as well as in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Mauritius, Jersey and London – offers local and international cross-border lending, corporate and business banking and business assurance, as well as foreign exchange trading and investment opportunities in Africa and abroad, and also benefits from Standard Bank Group’s operations in 21 countries. 

The bank’s focus on inter-generation wealth transfer led to the creation of its Leadership Academies, aimed at providing financial education to customers’ children. Last year, the Women’s Wealth Academy launched in London, having held several academies in Africa. The aim is to educate women on “investing, raising a financially fit family, and philanthropy”, says the bank.

The wealth and investment unit, which manages about R160bn ($11.8bn) in private client assets globally, runs ‘exclusive’ events throughout Africa, giving private bankers the possibility to interact with clients, the goal being to “support and care for their lifestyle aspirations and dreams”, according to the bank.

The institution pays much attention to growing wealth managers from within, through training, which helps face the challenge of finding “the right quality” of wealth managers to service clients, particularly in Kenya. In this country, the political crisis has led to “subdued business activities and flows” and the bank has started offering insurance solutions and structured lending solutions. In Ghana, the bank has introduced new services, including offshore mortgages in London, and launched new apps for financial management and mobile payment. In both countries, one of the key issues remains the dynamic regulatory landscape. 

In Nigeria, where high local currency interest rates have made borrowing solutions expensive, the bank has shifted its focus from leverage to goals-based saving and investing, while ensuring it gives clients appropriate advice given the recent change of foreign exchange rules.  

  • Best Private Bank in Mauritius
  • Winner: MCB Private Banking and Wealth Management

The island state of Mauritius has become an increasingly important offshore financial centre for African business. It has capitalised on this status by expanding its role as a place for international wealth management, with an Overseas Family Office Scheme targeting families with investable wealth of at least $5m.

This creates strong opportunities for MCB Private Banking, part of Mauritius’ MCB Group, a financial services conglomerate headquartered in the country.

The private bank has made the most of these, with a particular concentration on expanding the number of premium customers – those who, as a spokeswoman puts it, “are still in the phase of building their wealth or those who have not yet assessed the full potential of being in private banking”. They must have a minimum investable wealth of about $150,000. The number of premium client accounts rose by more than 15% during fiscal year 2015-16 alone.

The financial sophistication of many of the wealthy individuals living in the country is reflected in the private bank’s relatively sophisticated customer base, although their backgrounds are also diverse.

“Our local customers can be tiered as follows: directors and CEOs, family businesses, entrepreneurs and rentiers,” says Didier Merle, head of private banking and wealth management at MCB. “A large proportion of our local customer base has an understanding of key investment principles and at MCB Private Banking and Wealth Management, we are dedicated to further increasing our customers’ understanding of their investment needs through adapted client forums.”

This is far from all being new money, however. “Wealth has, in some cases, been passed down across several generations, and the implications reside very often in succession planning and ensuring that the wealth in question is preserved during transmission,” says Mr Merle. “We have a financial planning team and experienced private bankers who can guide our clients on how best to manage, transmit and preserve their wealth.” 

  • Best Private Bank in the US for Customer Service
  • Winner: BNY Mellon Wealth Management

New York-based BNY Mellon takes the customer satisfaction scores assigned by clients of its private banking division answering its annual survey very seriously indeed. The bank believes the best way to keep private clients happy is through a team-based approach, giving every relationship manager access to a group of experts able to assist each client in meeting goals and objectives. With about 30 clients to each adviser, its ratios are among the best in the business. The roll-out of new technology is seen as a key part of this formula.

“The use of technology is intended to complement the relationship that our clients have with their wealth advisers, not to replace it,” says Don Heberle, CEO of BNY Mellon Wealth Management. “It allows clients to interact with us in the way that is most preferable to them at any given time.”

But it is not just these softer criteria that are key to satisfaction levels, believe the bank’s hierarchy, with investment ideas and returns generated by chief investment officer Leo Grohowski crucial to the offer. Mr Grohowski’s team also delivers asset allocation models, formulates long-term views of asset classes and attempts to assemble portfolios to perform in any type of market. Communicating the reasons for holding particular investments is also seen as vital in this high-touch environment. This dialogue, believes Mr Heberle, provides “confidence in their asset to reach their long-term goals”.

The bank has also made progress in instituting more formalised training for its advisers through the Premier training programme, which kicks in every six to eight weeks in a wealth manager’s career, after their initial ‘on-boarding’ extensive initiation and training programme. 

  • Best Private Bank in Europe for Customer Service
  • Winner: CaixaBank

Along with arch rival BBVA, CaixaBank has been not just one of Spain’s fastest adopters for client-facing technology in private banking, but also one of Europe’s leading players, forced to act by its home market’s fast-consolidating financial services industry.

But while the bank sees technology as essential to providing quality service and support in order to improve efficiency of customer service, there are other factors perceived as being almost equally important. “Technology alone is not enough,” says Victor Allende, CaixaBank executive director of private and premier banking. “Strong trusted relationships between our customers and our advisers represent a key aspect of our value proposition.”

But the bank admits there is always a balancing act to play between client service and profitability, with mutual fund sales always a key objective among private banking players in Spain. “Each and every innovation is designed to deliver on three objectives,” says Mr Allende. “We must support the business model, enhance customer experience and, of course, make our private banking model more efficient by adapting to change.”

The country’s fast-paced consolidation, he says, has been positive through creating larger and stronger institutions capable of driving innovation and enhancing customer service. The mergers have helped expand numbers of specialised branches and consultants offering private banking services.

While CaixaBank’s private banking business originated with the acquisition of Morgan Stanley’s Spanish wealth management franchise – from where Mr Allende originated – and was further bolstered in 2015 with the acquisition of Barclays’ Spanish business, the challenge now is for the bank to maintain the momentum of innovation after having been a first mover for so long. Mr Allende vows to be able to drive innovation to sustain the leading position, but an onerous, shifting regulatory and business environment could make such promises tougher to keep in future. Uncertainty of where the Barcelona-based bank’s headquarters will end up during a time of turmoil in Spain, and calls from many for Catalonian independence, could throw a further spanner into the works. 

  • Best Private Bank in Asia for Customer Service
  • Winner: Kasikornbank PCL

There was one word that kept cropping up in Kasikornbank Private Banking’s submission to the Global Private Banking Awards for 2017. It was not one of the usual and sometimes rather excessively used phrases such as ‘personalised service’ or ‘customer-focused approach’. Instead it was a single word: ‘happiness’.

Other private banks should take note, as Kasikornbank, Thailand’s biggest wealth manager, has won the award for Best Private Bank for Customer Service in Asia.

“The happiness of high-net-worth individuals is the major reason behind every action of Kasikornbank Private Banking,” says the bank. “Kasikornbank Private Banking has always been the first market mover in Thailand and has never stopped improving our service if it could create happiness for our clients.” This does not, for the most part, consist of offering radically different products and services, but it is good, when offering these services, to keep the end goal of happiness in mind. 

One example is Kasikornbank Private Banking’s initiation of a family wealth planning service. This assists clients in the financial management of their family as a whole and in their succession planning – the latter being a particular source of strife among wealthy families around the world. Kasikornbank Private Banking was the first wealth manager in Thailand to offer this service.

Another example of such services, says Kasikornbank Private Banking, is its co-operation with Switzerland’s Lombard Odier to make its mutual funds, K-SGM and K-Great, more “risk-resistant”.

Offering family planning and reducing risk could, as the bank puts it, “creates financial worry-free lives for clients and allows them to pursue their own happiness”.

In line with a 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.

The bank says: “We regard giving worry-free time back to our clients as our highest achievement. Kasikornbank Private Banking believes that clients could feel this aspiration.”

  • Best Private Bank in Australasia for Customer Service
  • Winner: Westpac Private Wealth

Every private bank claims to put the client at the heart of what they do, but what really matters is their approach in practice. “We are different from our competitors in how we think and act,” says Katie Christoffersen, head of private wealth management at Westpac New Zealand. The private wealth division, managing about $14bn in client assets, is part of the international Westpac Group, with more than $670bn in global assets.  

“Across the Westpac Group, we like to think of ourselves as a 200-year-old start-up, creating agility into our organisation, always being ready to change and adapting to customer feedback and acting quickly on that,” says Ms Christoffersen.

On the ground, it is important to empower teams who are closest to the customer to make on the spot decisions, she adds, saying: “We are hungry for feedback, and we have daily catch ups with the team that are focused on taking customer feedback, industry trends, sharing, discussing and debating these, so we can adjust quickly.” 

With an average client tenure of more than 22 years, the bank’s external engagement surveys, Voice of Customer, show consistently high levels of client engagement. 

“Digital is a way of creating great customer experiences,” says Ms Christoffersen. Digital innovation is especially powerful in automating or streamlining tasks, freeing up staff to bring added value to clients. “The best piece of technology is one that really helps people in their day-to-day lives, solving real customer pain points,” adds Ms Christoffersen.

One example of the bank’s pledge to making its customers’ lives easier is demonstrated though its new CashNav solution, developed in collaboration with a New York-based fintech company, Moven. 

CashNav helps create ‘good financial habits’ by making clients’ behaviour patterns visible. Clients receive real-time notifications when money leaves their account, and graphs show spending behaviour comparisons against several categories that are divided into needs and wants, and highlights spikes in spending behaviour.

When it comes to portfolio management, the most rewarding initiatives for clients have been the broadening of the exposures available within the alternatives sector, and the restructuring of several ‘related-party funds’ to more efficient structures. 

In a drive towards greater transparency and control over investment managers, the bank moved to sub-advisory mandates across alternatives, fixed income and equities, employing between three to five underlying managers in each asset class. This delegated approach to investments generated nimbleness, as well as cost and process efficiencies, says Ms Christoffersen. 

  • Best Initiative of the Year in Relationship Management Technology in Asia
  • Winner: Standard Chartered Private Bank

Standard Chartered’s innovative technology solution, introduced in January 2017, was developed to create a one-stop shop for the bank’s investment ideas, conviction product solutions and advisory models, which its relationship managers across Asia, Africa and the Middle East can easily access. 

“We created ‘Advice’ to equip our frontline teams with a one-stop access to the bank’s advisory views and enable them to recommend asset class ideas and related solutions quickly,” says Didier von Daeniken, global head of private banking and wealth management at Standard Chartered. “With the implementation of Advice, relationship managers can now offer our clients immediate access to actionable insights, and respond more nimbly to market events – which is especially critical in today’s increasingly volatile environment.” 

Before Advice, it could sometimes take up to three hours to thoroughly prepare each client’s investment portfolio, involving referencing several different sources. 

The solution is powered by the Thomson Reuters Eikon platform – a tool that advisers already had access to on their work stations and were therefore comfortable using. And it reduces the amount of time needed for an adviser to look for information and prepare client proposal updates by up to 50%. 

Standard Chartered has also initiated a ‘proof of concept’ (PoC) with Bambu, a robo-advisory company which participated in the bank’s Supercharger FinTech Accelerator. This PoC uses a digital advisory tool that complements Advice, as it uses several factors, such as the stock’s value and the company’s earnings and credit quality, to produce a ranking and assess the suitability of individual equities for clients.

The bank is also making progress in digitising its price discovery and order management process, aimed at improving its trading capabilities. The bank’s equity derivatives order management platform, EQConnect, which was rolled out this year, allows bankers to perform price discovery and order placement directly with issuers and counterparties for popular products. 

“This market-leading capability allows our frontline colleagues to price structures almost in real time, which means that our clients also enjoy an enhanced and more efficient investment experience,” says Mr Daeniken.

  • Best Private Bank in the US for Philanthropy Services
  • Winner: Brown Brothers Harriman

When it comes to offering philanthropic services, one of the key challenges for a private bank is training relationship managers to skilfully introduce the topic when speaking to clients. 

Brown Brothers Harriman has addressed this issue by adding a wealth planner to each of its client teams, each of whom is experienced at practising trusts and estates and is knowledgeable about philanthropic issues. “So we are able to help our clients think through these types of questions and concerns, and others related to their charitable goals,” says Kathryn George, partner at Brown Brothers Harriman, which is the oldest and largest privately held bank in the US. “This is a key differentiator for our firm,” she adds. 

The three facets of philanthropy on which the bank spends the most time with clients are assessing purpose and impact, tax-efficient planning and philanthropic vehicles (whether, for example, it makes more sense to create a family foundation or a donor-advised fund, or both).

Values, not news headlines, are what mostly concerns the wealthy, says Ms George. “Intergenerational issues are at the forefront of our clients’ minds. They are focused on how their wealth will support their children in achieving their goals and on instilling their own values around wealth in the next generation,” she says. Clients want to make sure their wealth helps rising generations achieve their long-term objectives, as opposed to being a hindrance. 

To meet these needs, Brown Brothers Harriman is adding tools and resources to its long-standing next-generation education services. It is also rolling out a new values-based planning framework, aimed at helping clients facilitate family conversations around money and values.

The recently launched Centre for Women & Wealth seeks to help women deal with transitions in their families, confront questions about how to help the next generation succeed and embrace their financial independence.

The bank uses a value-driven investment approach with a quality bias, where partners have their ‘skin in the game’, as they invest alongside clients. “In a period like today, in which valuations are stretched, we tell our clients not to worry about missing opportunities to invest in overvalued companies, whose prices may continue to rise,” says Ms George. Thinking long term and seeking to invest with a margin of safety continues to be the bank’s stance. “We believe that preserving wealth is the best way to grow it over time,” says Ms George. 

  • Best Private Bank in Europe for Philanthropy Services
  • Best Private Bank for Socially Responsible and Impact Investing
  • Winner: Lombard Odier

While those in the tight-knit Swiss private banking community have always had a high opinion of Lombard Odier and its partners as something of a ‘white-gloved’ traditional private banking institution, its partners have also had an air of maverick flare about them, especially when it comes to philanthropy and investing with a social as well as economic purpose.

There are few banks which really take impact investing and socially responsible investing (SRI) seriously, but most have realised that they have to as it is something clients are increasingly demanding. 

“Impact investing is already a differentiator, particularly as clients see that it can deliver investment returns that help them meet their many and varied financial objectives,” says Patrick Odier, senior managing partner of the Lombard Odier Group in Geneva. Most private clients, he believes, want to have a more direct impact on societal issues without compromising on financial returns and they can see that investment in these new strategies “stacks up” compared to traditional equity or bond funds, he adds.

Lombard Odier pioneered SRI strategies in the mid-1990s, developing a proprietary approach to investment and issuer analysis which went beyond just looking at companies’ own environmental and social governance criteria. The bank analyses 5000 companies, scoring them for ‘consciousness’, ‘actions’ and ‘results’, screening out a much larger number of companies than its competitors. Lombard Odier’s ‘controversy radar’ also analyses huge losses incurred by companies involved in controversial practices and avoids investing in them. “Returns and impact go hand in hand,” says Mr Odier.

When developing relationships, the bank has become conscious that philanthropy now has become more important, sometimes eclipsing a client’s business and investment needs. Among clients, says Mr Odier, philanthropy is now “top of mind, because it is about a deeply personal dimension of significance, what one will leave behind, and which family ethos to pass on to the generations that follow”. 

  • Best Private Bank for Customer Service Globally
  • Best Global Brand in Private Banking
  • Winner: Citi Private Bank

It has been tough for Citi to keep up with its previous successes in private banking. And, indeed, the bank has been ruthless in cutting back certain branches, particularly in high-cost central London locations, as it has struggled to hit the old highs of net new money, experiencing outflows of $800m during 2016 after the bumper harvest of 2015. Yet it has stuck to its guns within a narrowly defined remit of servicing ultra-high-net-worth individuals on a global basis, managing $226bn on their behalf by offering them a ‘family office-style’ service.

Citi has been one of the leading banks in utilising customer feedback, mainly through its ‘voice of the client’ survey, but also through its high-speed digitisation project, where complaints from clients were sought and acted on at every stage of digital development. The bank has also made big strides in improving the networking opportunities between clients, something for which there is now huge demand among wealthy private investors, designing a family office leadership programme and setting up post-Brexit briefings with senior figures of political and economic influence, including former Bank of England governor Mervyn King and Conservative politician William Hague.

Citi still sees itself in the top global five private banking players in terms of the breadth of services it can offer to its clients, but admits that that base is a very narrow one. Like many competitors, it is moving away from the hedge funds space it once prided itself on and staking a stronger claim to the private equity and real estate spheres, claiming to have made good gains for the clients it guided into London purchases after sterling slumped following the Brexit referendum.

For the moment, at least, Luigi Pigorini, regional boss for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, remains upbeat. And key private banking consultants say he is right to be so. Whereas rivals spend vast sums promoting their brands, their belief is that Citi is one of the few to deliver on the brand’s promise.

  • Best Private Bank for Entrepreneurs
  • Winner: Bank of the West Wealth Management

Bank of the West, owned by French giant BNP Paribas, claims to have benefited from substantial investments in technology to both increase efficiency and match customer demand for services. 

With a surge from $10bn to $12bn in assets managed for clients during 2016, the entrepreneur-focused bank appears to feed off Silicon Valley, which lies close to its San Francisco base. Wealth advisers are also located in both Palo Alto and San José, with its presence in other US tech hubs including Seattle, Denver and Los Angeles. Southern California and other regions are targeted due to their high concentration of people who have created wealth through business ownership in a variety of industries, including food distribution, healthcare innovation and recycling, not just technology.

Specialist staff devote time to providing support for private businesses, working with entrepreneurs, especially women, and investing for social impact through socially responsible investing parameters.

Although there is some independent branding and focus on regional clients in the US, the French parent bank very much sees this west coast US firm as one of its “global wealth management hubs”. While the bank claims to be nimble, agile and innovative, it benefits hugely from the global infrastructure and central budget for technology and expertise dispensed by BNP Paribas from Paris.

What the bank has done, however, is to recognise that needs on the west coast of the US can be very different from those elsewhere, as business creation and ownership represent a greater and increasing part of wealth being accumulated and that services need to be designed specifically to cater for this. This becomes particularly important, believe Bank of the West leaders, where businesses are being passed along to the next generation or to employees. The bank wants to further reach out using this mindset to family members and their key employees – who play an important role in both sustaining and growing the business over time – not just concentrating on the family leaders and business owners. 

  • Best Private Bank for Digital Communication
  • Winner: BBVA Banca Privada

BBVA Banca Privada (BBVA PB) won the award for Best Private Bank for Digital Communication, and was highly commended in the categories of Best Private Bank in Spain, Best Private Bank for Innovation and Best Initiative for Client-facing Technology.

The bank is a key player in Spain’s private banking sector, with one of the largest numbers of both ultra-high-net-worth and high-net-worth clients. Jorge Gordo Naveso, head of private banking at BBVA PB, explains that the key to its success lies in its business model, based on a “customer-centric approach” which combines technology and innovation with first-class personal service.

“Continuous improvement of the customer experience is our primary concern, and we want to turn this into our main competitive advantage over the next few years,” says Mr Gordo. “The large digital transformation that the BBVA group is undergoing, combined with changes to our organisational structure, is contributing to reinforce our customer-centric approach.”

As part of its ‘Digital Transformation Project for Private Banking’ strategy, BBVA PB has developed a new set of digital solutions to enhance the user experience, add new functionality and transparency for its customers, and comply with new regulatory demands.

“BBVA BP is evolving quickly as new and disruptive players emerge. As a result, we have improved our customer experience by promoting our digital communications model – for example, client onboarding, chat functionality, digital signature and so on – which have significantly improved relationships between private bankers and clients, as well as between private bankers and the bank,” says Mr Gordo.

The introduction of remote technology allows clients to sign contracts, orders and all kinds of documents remotely. Customers can also engage in safe conversations with private bankers, exchange documents, execute orders and schedule meetings online. 

BBVA BP has also provided all its bankers with a tablet with several applications developed using client-facing technology, such as ‘My Private Client’, which provides the banker with all the information regarding the client, or ‘Virtual Private Banking Desk’, which enables onsite analysis, provides updated valuation, and allows customers to carry out transactions as if they were in a physical branch. 

  • Best Private Banking Boutique
  • Winner: Banque SYZ

Despite experiencing significant outflows of nearly $3bn during 2016, Banque Syz has managed to turn a major $40m loss into a small profit, having outsourced operational activities. A relatively youthful operation, having just celebrated its 20th anniversary, the bank has, to the delight of chief executive and majority owner Eric Syz, secured a berth in Switzerland’s top 20 private banks, running client assets of nearly $48bn following the acquisition of Royal Bank of Canada’s local franchise.

From its formation, Banque Syz was all about managing assets in a more innovative way than what the founders saw as Geneva’s staid private banks. Co-founder Eric Syz says the rationale for seeking alternative sources of alpha is very much still there, although he has now switched emphasis significantly from hedge funds to private equity. He also has to contend with changing client appetites in a challenging operating environment. The allocation to alternatives among his client base is now down to less than 10%, compared with closer to 30% in the pre-Madoff heyday, when hedge funds were considered the must-have accessory for high-net-worth individuals banking through Switzerland.

But he feels renewed interest is coming. “There is a clear shift in demand in Europe towards real estate, private equity and venture capital. Clients have been able to take out some of the potential volatility spikes in this way,” says Mr Syz, believing that the “free lunch” of living off “leveraged beta” returns is finally over for private clients.

Today, the bank prefers to shepherd clients into private equity, spreading portfolios over five to 10 key investments, and is busy promoting this asset class to potential clients through regular events.

But despite the perception of Syz as an investment-led firm, the private banking service Syz provides goes well beyond investments, according to the bank’s co-founder, who has recently bought out his partners. “We set up Syz because asset management was not being taken seriously enough. But private wealth is complex and emotional. There are generational and diversification issues and there is always a question of how we meet expectations,” says Mr Syz. “The first thing we have to ask ourselves is: ‘What is the purpose of the client’s wealth?’ You need a holistic approach in private banking, as it is a multi-faceted business.” 

Profiles written by Yuri Bender, Paula Garrido, Elliot Smither, Elisa Trovato and David Turner.


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