Credit Suisse, a private banking revolution

Date: 02 Nov 2007


A number of large scale institutions, including Credit Suisse, made announcements about combining their corporate institutional side with their private banking in 2006 which thought was a marketing message that would get lost in the passage of time. Undoubtedly, it was part of a branding mechanism, but scratching the surface, particularly at Credit Suisse, reveals that they have also been undergoing a quiet revolution.

Based in Zurich, Dr Ariel Sergio Goekmen, responsible for the ‘Wealthy Families’ sector and ‘UK resident non-domicile’s’ at Credit Suisse is also part of this development. Known to many on the European wealth circuit, he represents the perfect mould of a private banker. He has a blend of top credentials balanced with solid personal values, an immense set of qualifications and something extra: staying power.

In his role at Credit Suisse, he looks after wealthy families as a unit rather than the individual which is the label usually attached to the ultra high net worth. Sixty to seventy percent of his client base is resident non domicile, generally entering at the CHF fifty million mark. “We attract a large number of entrepreneurs with interests ranging from M&A, IPO, private equity or relocation.” He says then adds. “Wealthy families generally are very mobile nowadays. I think they form a unique community connected around the globe.”

Ariel started his career in 1983 in a trustee and accountancy role and after studying the business, yearned to deal with the clients face to face but in the early days he was kept firmly in the back office, considered too inexperienced to bring forward. Fortunately an opportunity arose when a head of private banking needed a junior in 1991 and Ariel jumped at his chance. “I wanted to help serve people that I liked” says Ariel “and bring passion to my role because I need to believe in what I do.” This early step led to other roles at the Stock Exchange (1986-87), LGT Group (1987-95) before he joined Credit Suisse in 1996. He has been there ever since except for a short spell to another wealth manager to set up a Middle Eastern desk. He says of his return “the ‘project team’ environment at Credit Suisse worked well for me so I was pleased to rejoin.”

Ariel says his general client approach is to discuss risk issues first, he also tackles clients about their finances or situations and likes to “ground them in the real world” but Ariel says he enjoys showing families new routes and ideas too. “They don’t have to follow formulas when transferring assets. I like to show them that they can unify or diversify and will be straightforward with them: if I don’t think our services will help, I will say so.”

Of changes Ariel has seen in the industry, he thinks that clients are far more enlightened these days which naturally means that the job of a private banker is more demanding. “It’s partly a generational shift but generally clients are more aware about services we offer.” He adds that work with wealthy families is, as all in the industry say, complex because of the increasing mobility of clients. “We use a lot more advisers to support us now and often point clients in the right direction if they have risks in their structures or opportunities they can exploit. We have antennae for recognising client problems.” Ariel confirms. “I pay the utmost attention to detail and to the relationship when working with wealthy families, which helps in being able to serve more complex client demands.” He agrees that the incoming clients are, like elsewhere, tending to be entrepreneurs or people at the top of their careers who are selling up a business.
So, I wonder what skills Ariel prizes in his role. “I never forget that clients are paying customers. It focuses the mind. Listening and clarifying is equally important. I think litigation is often caused because bankers don’t know their clients well enough which means misunderstandings arise.” He also says importantly that “it never pays to be arrogant or to patronise clients.”

He mentions the often used phrased of “trust” and being a “trusted adviser” but I point out that a recent PwC report showed that private bankers weren’t in quite such a healthy position as they thought and share of wallet was remarkably low for many in the industry, suggesting that perhaps “trust” is mistakenly assumed. I ask how he plans to improve his chances with client purses. “I try to get to know my client as well as I can to understand their needs and to come up with tailor-made plans. We have a structured advisory process in place which allows us to thoroughly analyse the client’s needs.”

Of the increasingly international client, I ask him to speculate about cultural differences. He thinks that clients can’t be bundled as packages and are unique but says that certainly in Switzerland, third generational families generally insist their children excel in a career or trade. He adds that older families will often have common values and cites the English as having a more conservative approach to their investments.

Of the steps Credit Suisse has implemented in the last year, he says the bank has brought departments closer together. “It has made life much clearer for individuals internally.” He adds with a breezy honesty. “Formal barriers have come down giving us frictionless resources. We are quicker now and know that we win business because of this.”

He says they also have more global initiatives. “People here work side by side with different expertise which is really helping to attract more assets. We can work on anything from ship financing to valuations and IPO’s and have real experts we can leverage internally. In my view Credit Suisse has become a strong powerhouse.”

Credit Suisse favour the personal side of the business rather than only highlighting the importance of technology. Recent initiatives in the bank include project teams picked to focus on particular client needs, gender initiatives, philanthropy, charity and microfinance. “We want to lead in giving back and supporting local communities.” says Ariel.

And finally. Any stereotypes that the industry holds onto that Ariel would like to overturn? “People always think Switzerland is an expensive jurisdiction but it isn’t. We have a very competitive fee structure.”

Dr. Ariel Sergio Goekmen
Paradeplatz 8CH-8070
Tel +41 44 334 7721

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