As private banks’ product offerings become ever more homogenous, and digital channels become more sophisticated and commonplace, is the emotional intelligence of advisors the special ingredient to stand out from the crowd? John Schaffer looks at how private banks are implementing emotional intelligence strategies


The private banking industry has always been heavily oriented around human lead relationships. But with the advent of better digital tools, is the emotional intelligence (EQ) of relationship managers (RMs) as important as it has been in the past?

Eileen Foley, national director of the Family Office group, at BNY Mellon Wealth Management tells PBI: “With more digital tools to serve our clients, EQ and building a relationship of trust become even more important. No algorithm can replace the human touch.

“Digital is a useful tool on many levels, including for communication. But it can’t replace the nuance of human conversation and all the ways that we coach our professionals for interacting with clients.”

The challenge of disruption from robo advisors has put into question the relevance of private banks. However, David Durlacher, CEO at Julius Baer International suggests that automated solutions are not able to replace the emotional intelligence required to generate sticky relationships:

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“Over the last few years we have seen robo-advisors attempt to decouple the human relationship between the client and investment adviser. More recently we have seen a number of these firms hire human relationship managers as their clients struggle to adapt to a machine based relationship. We do not see a scenario where machines will effectively replace the emotional intelligence required to have a successful, long-term partnership with our clients. We do, however, see the value in enhancing our digital capabilities (in our back office) to free-up time for human relationships.”


Emotional training

Foley, BNY Mellon Wealth Management, tells PBI that training in EQ is fully integrated into how its RMs approach clients:

“From the employee’s first day, our mentoring and coaching is focused on how we create an extraordinary client experience for each client.  Both formally and informally, we emphasize the importance of being careful, observant listeners, to ask open-ended questions that encourage them to say what’s really on their mind.

“We strive to letting the clients lead the discussion, while we try to read their body language and expressions, noting when they are and aren’t comfortable discussing a particular topic. It’s critical to create a connection with the client such that they trust us and feel safe in sharing their goals, aspirations and concerns.”

Tony Johnson, head of sales and relationship management at RBC Wealth Management International, tells PBI that RBC has a pre-defined methodology for interacting with HNWI clients in order to create emotional relationships. He notes that achieving emotional connections requires a “combination of art and science”.

“Everyone assumes that sales and relationship management is an art. It’s not. It’s a combination of art and science. When I talk about our sales methodology, the science is the roadmap for how the team go down the path of client engagement. We can have the RMs using their own individual style and flair, but it’s underpinned by an institutionalised way of doing business. When I came into this industry, I was amazed by the heavy reliance on the individual’s art.”

The starting focus for RBC’s methodology is oriented around segmentation. Prospective clients and RMs are paired together based on the RMs specialisation, this ranges from corporate executive clients, entrepreneurs, retirees who are looking to transfer their wealth, to entertainers and sportspeople.

Johnson adds: “The advantage is that RMs understand, in depth, a specific client segment. Imagine you’re a corporate executive client, and I spend my whole life with corporate executives as an RM. I want to provoke your thinking because I want to tell you what other people like you are experiencing in terms of trends, perspectives, and challenges.”

Johnson suggests that building emotional connections creates a true value proposition that differentiates RBC from other private banks, and that it is often more significant than differentiating through product offerings:

“The product is merely the plumbing. Clearly you need it, but it’s not the secret sauce. If I can interact with you better than any of my competitors and if I can bring you insights on people like you, then surely i’m differentiating in every interaction.”


Augmenting EQ with AI

According to an Accenture report (Banking Technology Vision 2017), 78% of bankers believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will enable simpler user interfaces that will allow banks to create a more human-like customer experience. In addition, 79% believe that AI will revolutionise the way banks gather information and interact with customers, and 76% believe that within three years, banks will deploy AI as their primary method for interacting with customers.

UBS Wealth Management has been developing AI and facial recognition software to assist client advisors. A spokesperson for UBS tells PBI:

“Based on our WM Innovation research we saw great opportunities for EQ combined with AI via facial mimic scans to address discussion points or topics to avoid in client meetings and their investment decisions. The Hypothesis we tested during the pilot were:

“Firstly, if we identify the client preferences without directly asking for them, then it will increase the client experience through a more tailored offering and service provision and we can measure the effect by qualitative research / interviews as well as a higher conversion of our automated investment proposals.

“Secondly, if we ask a different set of questions than in the current profiling approach, then it will deliver an enhanced view of the client and their investment goals and we can measure it by comparing current and newly captured profiles as well as a higher number of investment services consumed by the client.”

According to the spokesperson, emotional advice revealed interesting results in regards to the working hypothesis: “The client advisor is able to identify client preferences without directly asking for them, and can also ask a different set of questions than in the current profiling approach. Additionally, it provides the user an opportunity to self-reflect.

“This is great example of how new technologies can greatly support RMs by giving them EQ insights before a client discussion, allowing them to tailor the discussion to the preferences of the client. Nonetheless, this remains a support tool – the personal interaction and trust building that is integral to any client relationship is and will remain a key aspect to the RM’s role.”