Switzerland is the home of private banking, but after a disruptive two years due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, how is the sector? How are relationships with clients? Patrick Brusnahan speaks to Switzerland-based private bank Vontobel

Patrick Brusnahan: How would you describe the state of Swiss private banking at the moment?

Jean-Pierre Stillhart, WM head of German speaking Switzerland at Vontobel: In the corona pandemic, our decisions were confirmed, e.g., the focus on technology and the investments we have done in that area paid off.

The current environment remains challenging, especially for small institutions. Some of them might reach their limits in terms of digitisation and increasing regulatory density. As a result of the continuing high pressure on margins and further economies of scale, consolidation in the Swiss private banking market might continue.

How do you differentiate from other Swiss private banking in the country? Who is the typical Vontobel private banking client? Or how do you segment your typical clients? 

The needs and goals of our clients come first at Vontobel Wealth Management. We attach great importance to continuity and a long-term approach in our business relationships. We manage client assets actively and with foresight – over generations.

We want to understand the client, his or her individual situation, plans and needs. To do this, we ask questions – sometimes very personal ones. We also address potential problems directly, and our specialists excel at providing clear assessments and ideas that can be implemented quickly. This holistic approach to care enables us to develop versatile and individual solutions. In short: personal advisory from a single source.

When clients look to join the bank, how long is the onboarding process? And how many complete it?

For me, a good onboarding process achieves two goals: Digitisation and client centricity – both are very well developed at Vontobel and in the ideal case one can become a client in just a few minutes. Evidentially this depends on the individual case and only applies in the best-case scenario when our digital onboarding can be fully used.

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In the current environment, marked by uncertainty and volatility, active investment ideas are crucial. Vontobel therefore offers its clients a dedicated investment process. Assets are actively managed, globally diversified and monitored through an effective risk management process.

Has engagement with clients changed over the last few years? Particularly considering Covid-19 made us all virtual for two years.

Excellent client care is the success factor for outstanding client experience. And Vontobel has invested in that already for years, before the pandemic. What was true before the pandemic is even more true today and tomorrow. In times of COVID, the accessibility of the relationship manager is essential for client loyalty.

Personalised dialog with clients should be conducted via the client’s preferred contact points, be it e-mail, telephone, video conference or messenger.

The banking industry in Switzerland has proven to be able to react to extraordinary situations with extraordinary measures. These were introduced very successfully in a very short time.

What are the current hurdles in Swiss private banking?

Digitisation has had a major impact on social and business life in recent years. Banks must also meet changing client expectations and needs. Artificial intelligence applications can counteract this problem and accelerate the change, away from the traditional business model towards individualised products and personalised services.

We will continue to focus on quality in performance, products, and services in order to be able to generate appropriately good margins. We want to grow, but we don’t want to be a discounter. Instead, we want to remain a high-performance, high-margin global specialist for high-quality investment strategies and solutions. We offer our clients added value for which they are also prepared to pay for.