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Private banking is living in interesting times. When Euromoney hosted its annual Asia Private Banking Seminar and Debate in Singapore in September, in partnership with China Construction Bank, there was plenty of lively discussion.
The day started with a debate about millennials, a key demographic given that $16 trillion in wealth will be transferred into the hands of a new generation. At least 70% of family offices, according to a study from Credit Suisse, claim not to be prepared for that seismic shift, which offers an astonishing opportunity to wealth managers.
Millennials share many of the same characteristics. They never lived outside the tech bubble, growing up in a world where computers and mobile phones are prevalent and the Internet omnipresent. That makes them tech-savvy, but they share other values too.
Many have a deep interest in ESG investments, having grown up in a world living in the shadow of climate change and habitat loss. A large number are entrepreneurs in their own right; they are highly educated, and want to be in the driving seat when investment decisions are made.
Another debate on the issue of technology engaged - and at times divided - opinion. Panellists were split on whether private banking was a leader in the field of digital financial services, or a laggard. The industry is innovating furiously, and also tapping into and leveraging new forms of digital communication when engaging with clients.
Security, of paramount importance to high-net-worth customers, is really where private banking comes into its own as an innovator. That makes sense: HNWs want to access fresh market data, and information about new products, at a moment’s notice, but they also need their financial and personal details to be kept private. Wealth managers and private banks, protective of their brands, want that too.
One thing is for certain. Fears that robo-advisers would replace real, living-and-breathing relationship managers are, for now, misplaced. All delegates agreed on one immutable fact: that private banking will for the foreseeable future remain a face-to-face activity that thrives on personal relationships, real-time physical and verbal interaction, trust, and above all the human touch.