Leaders List interview: 60 seconds with Christoph Courth, Pictet

Date: 12 Apr 2022

Silvia Ricciardi

Christoph Courth, Pictet

Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.

Head of Doing Great Things with Amazing People – That was what a client recently said my title should be, because she felt that Global Head of Philanthropy Services, my real title, perhaps did not truly capture the variety of ways I worked with clients and the variety of ways they choose to mobilise their wealth for social or environmental good.

I get to work with amazing individuals and families, helping them do great things with their wealth, whether just starting out or already quite sophisticated. Sometimes I act as a consultant, assessing needs and offering solutions, sometimes I act as a counsellor, moderating family philanthropic workshops, occasionally as an introducer to experts or peers and often as a sparring partner to bounce ideas off and share best practices.

It is a truly enjoyable and diverse role. And due to the long-term outlook of Pictet coupled with our multifamily ownership structure, it is a complementary offering where my sole objective is to help our clients achieve positive impact!

What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing in the philanthropic sector? Any trends?

Given that the world has been so full of surprises these past few years, the biggest challenge is navigating the constant change. The world has been faced with one crisis after another which makes it a complex and confusing space for philanthropists to be in. From climate crisis, to health crisis, to inequality crisis, to geopolitical crisis, to humanitarian crisis. While each replacing its predecessor on the headlines, in the real world these crises compound.

This environment though, I believe, is catalysing a fundamental disruption in how individuals and families seek to effect change with their wealth. Being more flexible, less directive and granting with fewer restrictions, even leveraging (still a small minority) new mediums such as Cryptocurrencies, DAOs or even the so called ‘metaverse’. For many the discussion goes much deeper than their philanthropy. Our clients also look at how they can make best use of their larger pot of capital, their investment portfolio, to generate social and environmental return, beyond the mere financial return. So, I often work hand in hand with relationship managers and our ESG investment experts.          

Are your clients behaving differently in the present era?

Most certainly. The questions from clients have changed quite significantly over the past two years. During the early days of the pandemic the focus was on how to get medical supplies to those on the front line morphing into wider concerns about equal access to healthcare and education during a time of lockdowns and remote learning which then evolved into tackling inequality, unemployment, homelessness, addiction, domestic violence and questions around our food systems. And now with the crisis in Ukraine, we are back to humanitarian emergency support, with some going beyond and asking how to use their philanthropic capital to tackle misinformation, or to leverage this to further transition the world towards more sustainable fuel sources.

It is a wild, confusing ride, and one that I believe will have a lasting impact on how philanthropists act going forward. Are the systems and requirements they have in place fit for purpose? Are they agile enough? Are they supporting the right causes? Are the expectations, timelines and parameters they attach to their support suitable? Are they really leveraging all the ways they can to mobilise their wealth?

Climate change and Philanthropy: what is the response you are getting from UHNW and HNW individuals?

All other philanthropy is for nothing, if we do not have a world fit for living in’ as one philanthropist so passionately put it. Yet in spite of this, in 2019 it was estimated that just 2% of global philanthropy was directed towards combating climate change. In Asia, the world’s most vulnerable region to climate change, that figure was less than 1%. Encouragingly, from what I am seeing, this is rapidly changing as more clients are addressing this imbalance in their philanthropic portfolios alongside applying a climate lends to their existing work. And not just reviewing their philanthropic portfolio, but their investment portfolios.  

What are the most important skills and personal qualities for an expert working in Philanthropy?

The role of a philanthropy advisor is not to tell people how or where to give, but to guide them in finding the right path and approach for them. I would therefore say that the most important skill is the ability to listen, ask questions and listen again. It is a bit like the role of a coach. Getting passionate people to challenge and question their own assumptions and ideas to truly find the right solutions not only for the causes they care so much about, but also for themselves. In regard to personal qualities, perhaps someone who is not driven to be on stage, but is content to stay behind the curtains ensuring the play is a success.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given?

My wonderful older brother once told me ‘remember Chris, the sun is always shining even if the clouds are in the way’. Whether he came up with it or he read it on the back of a T-shirt at a reggae concert, it stuck with me and I think it is quite a relevant one to philanthropy. There will often be clouds, but you have to aim for the brighter days ahead, that is what you are working towards, that is what philanthropy is all about.

Christoph Courth is a new member of our Leaders List.

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