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Building bonds

Published on Friday, 07 Sep 2012
Eduardo Leemann
Photo: Edmond So

It takes time to make a name for yourself. This is particularly true in the private banking industry, where recognition and consistency are crucial to building a trustworthy business. With three decades of experience in serving high-net-worth (HNW) individuals, Eduardo Leemann, chief executive officer of Falcon Private Bank, completely understands this. He is increasingly seeing, though, that providing excellent service and investing time with clients are becoming lost habits among today's relationship managers.

What are the challenges faced by relationship managers today?

The major issue relationship managers have today is that they need to produce and they need to produce fast. This is a problem because it takes time to develop relationships. If you put people under too much pressure, they tend to make mistakes.

In private banking, it is very easy to be evaluated. It is ultimately a numbers game. You can be nice, smart, terrific and everybody can like you. But at the end of the day, there is a piece of paper which has a number on it. And the number is what the number is.

What advice can you give those who want to take up the role?

The best private bankers are coming out of the hotel industry. If my children ever want to become private bankers or managers, I would tell them to go to a hotel-management school where you can learn much more down-to-earth management.

The client is the focus and it is a people business. You have to make sure you smile at a client who is always complaining. That is a challenge. The idea of providing good service is getting forgotten. Getting good grades in maths doesn't make you a good private banker.

It is very difficult to learn to be a relationship manager if you don't have people skills. This is very important and something I make sure I focus on in interviews. Candidates don't need a finance background but they need to have a finance affinity. If you are not interested in finance, you shouldn't be doing this. If you are smart, you can learn it as this is not rocket science.

What does it take to develop a private bank brand?

We take the approach of telling our story one on one. It just needs steadiness in delivering the message constantly and at the same high quality. Then it just takes time.

Where do you find ideas for improvements?

The best ideas come from our clients. I travel to big cities and meet wealthy people. It is interesting to speak to an HNW individual in Abu Dhabi at the start of a week and another one in Moscow at the end.

These are all intelligent people. They all have different philosophies which are very interesting. When you spend time with them, which I like to do, they share a lot about how they build their businesses and their wealth.

How do the needs of HNW clients in Greater China differ from those in the rest of the world?

Greater China is obviously totally different from the rest of world because the people there have gotten rich very recently in a very short period of time. A lot of them are wealthy but they are asset-rich, not cash-rich, even though they have a lot of cash. The wealth is usually stuck in one company which they have most likely brought public in Hong Kong.

They have not gone through a big financial crisis. Europeans and Americans have. What I try to do is to make them aware that there is always a crisis around the corner and how they should deal with it.

What should relationship managers do to stay committed?

You need to realise it is going to be difficult in today's business environment, so relationship managers need to have a lot of passion. You have to enjoy talking to clients - both in good times and in bad.

Discipline is also mandatory. Discipline means that if you believe only one out of 10 calls you make will be a success, you still make those calls. Not everybody has that discipline, but successful relationship managers do.

I think you need a year to know if someone is suitable for the industry. It takes at least two to build a decent business. But everyone tells me that is too generous, especially in Hong Kong. Six months, you've done it or you haven't. This is not good for the business, but then you cannot feed someone for two years either. It needs a bit of balance.

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