Malcolm Roberts

What is the definition of a good private banker?
It would be easier to answer what makes a good private banking team - a group of bankers from varied backgrounds each with different experiences and approaches so that there is a banker to suit the needs of every client. While clients will inevitably have things in common with one another, they are very varied in their objectives, priorities and – obvious though it sounds - their personalities. An individual private banker will look after a variety of different clients. While they will have to be flexible in their approach, there are some common characteristics which are essential across the board: being a good listener, a good communicator and a natural problem solver.

How would you describe the culture at Kleinwort Benson?
The culture within Kleinwort Benson is one that has evolved over 250-odd years. The fact that we provide advice to assist our clients to achieve their personal and financial goals is, in essence, what the founders of the business set out to do. It is a proud inheritance which has been carried through a number of periods of change and the guiding principles remain the same: fairness, rigour and holding the client’s interests at the centre of everything we do.

As we look to the future and our continued integration into the Societe Generale Group, I see a lot synergies in the way we work, including shared values. The bringing together of the brands is a testament to the culture that we have in common: a strong emphasis on team and a very client-centric approach.

How has the wealth management industry evolved since you embarked on your career?
In many ways the change has been enormous, but in one part it is effectively unchanged. The stockbroking firm I joined in 1972 was subject to the rules of the London Stock Exchange whose motto was “My word is my bond”. It was part of a thriving closed community whose world was blown apart by the “Big Bang” in 1986 – the day the securities market was deregulated. It brought in professional management and an increasingly professional approach. Discretionary management was introduced and the scope of markets became increasingly international. The cautious pace of change stepped up as international competition and new approaches were introduced. Performance was increasingly measured and dissected. Risk and volatility measures were introduced and, in general, the industry came under greater scrutiny and regulation. In more recent years, wealth management has evolved even further, encompassing a much wider range of asset classes than simply investment portfolios and the scrutiny and regulation has intensified.

How have the needs of your client base changed over that period?
Clients today have access to so much more information than their counterparts of previous generations. In general you could say that clients are, by and large, wealthier than they were before, more international in their outlook and, on the whole, better informed.

Another interesting shift is the increase in the number of entrepreneurs as clients. Their needs and outlook differ from those clients who have inherited their wealth. For one thing, an entrepreneur’s wealth may only be partially realised in certain cases as the founding corporate wealth may still be in place. This illiquid wealth requires both corporate advice and personal investment advice.

Another feature of entrepreneurial wealth today is that it is often created over a surprisingly short timeframe. This can result in a family being relatively unprepared for the life changing decisions required and the more difficult discussions about how to preserve this wealth for the next generation.

How important is personal chemistry in a private banker’s relationship with their client?
Undoubtedly, it is important that the client is comfortable with the private banker, both on a personal level and from the point of view of believing in them professionally. On occasion, however, it is a good thing to have a little distance - some professional objectivity - in order to give the best advice.

Communication is key. I am a great believer in picking up the phone to talk to my clients. Better still is meeting face to face. Although it is tempting, and of course it has its uses, email is no substitute for a real conversation.

Not a lot of people know this about me, but…. I am an inveterate planter of trees.  I have established hedgerows, an orchard and planted innumerable individual specimens, amongst which last year included two Judas Trees and a Black Walnut.


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