Practice Strategies

Banking, Wealth Sector In Ferment – A Talent Management Overview

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 12 June 2023

Banking, Wealth Sector In Ferment – A Talent Management Overview

What makes a good wealth manager, and what are the skills and qualities in demand today, and what is the state of the jobs market like right now? We talk to firms and executive search professionals for their views. This is part of a continuing series.

When a study from the world’s largest economy – the US – shows that about a quarter of financial advisors expect to retire in the next 10 years, that’s a wakeup call. 

That data came from Ameriprise in a survey of 385 financial advisors from across the industry. This publication has been familiar for some time with talk of how the average age of advisors is rising. Well, with all this talk of multi-trillion dollar generational wealth, this industry needs fresh blood. 

We’ve already reflected on to what extent artificial intelligence (AI) and other forms of technology might boost productivity and ease strains. Firms have specific approaches – some “grow their own” more than others. And when banks get into trouble and are taken over – as in the case of Credit Suisse or Silicon Valley Bank – it also means that a lot of people have their resumés on the market. But picking up teams of jobless bankers isn’t always a sustainable strategy on its own. 

“The hiring market has had a shot of adrenaline from the Credit Suisse situation. A rare opportunity to jostle for bankers that could move and most likely attract many of their clients due to undefended books, at the same time if the hiring banks and businesses are willing to hire from Credit Suisse many have then decided to be open to the entire market,” Nick Dogilewski, managing partner of Exeter Partners, an executive search firm in the UK, said. 

“The employment in the wealth management market is getting busier. There is expansion in some of the key players on the street which helps fuel movement across the entire market. The demand is very much split across the bigger names through to Tier-2 banks and independent wealth managers,” he continued. “The leading demand is and will most likely always be for private bankers with exciting books of business that were built up directly by the banker (ie not inherited) and the banker who has a network…the person who does not need the branding above the door.”

At UK private bank SG Kleinwort Hambros the impact of other banks’ problems was also mentioned.

“We see opportunities from strategic exits by other organisations to add to our pool of existing high performing talent,” Delyth Richards, head of client solutions, told this publication. 

Over in the US, Buzz Bray, who runs Bray Executive Search, was broadly upbeat on the state of the market. 

“There is still a healthy market for experienced UHNW advisors in most of the US. Especially in the larger markets in the Southeast and Southwest, we’ve seen more hiring in HNW/UHNW advisory and more competition for top talent,” he said.

Keeping staff is as important as finding them in the first place, Bray said. 

“Culture is an important factor in retention. [It is about] minimising arbitrary rules and unnecessary compliance-related things to navigate. Equity is important to many of the candidates we’ve worked with the past few years. Several of the MFOs [multi-family offices] we work with are actively looking for young professionals, in associate or junior roles where they can develop careers in the industry.

In some markets it is challenging finding younger candidates, in other markets there are good numbers of young wealth management professionals,” Bray said. 

It appears that in the currently hot area of family offices, demand is outpacing supply. Consider data that was issued a few days ago from Agreus Group, the consultancy, and KPMG Private Enterprise – part of KPMG. It showed that 80 per cent of professionals working in family offices get a performance bonus that can be more than 200 per cent their basic salary. And 58 per cent secured a salary rise last year amidst higher inflation. With locations such as Singapore home to hundreds of new family offices, for example, there's going to be a talent crunch. 

Tech savvy
This news service has noted how tech savvy, breadth of experience – even drawing candidates from fields such as the military – are important considerations today. Even for those wary about the ideology of some of it, the trend of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) also speaks to the brute fact that the recruitment net must widen because clients expect it.

Steve Bowyer, a talent acquisition manager at UK-based Kingswood said the wealth management employment market is “particularly tight at the moment, particularly for good quality candidates in advice and support roles.” “Often, when we are speaking to candidates, they will have multiple opportunities open to them. This does differ from region to region, with London in particular being the most competitive but also offering the most candidates, whilst more remote locations sometimes struggle in both quantity and quality.”

We asked SG Kleinwort Hambros’ Richards where she saw the strongest demand and where have things weakened?

“We continue to see a broad pipeline of candidates for open vacancies depending on specialist functions or skillset,” she replied. “SG Kleinwort Hambros has been investing in proprietary tools to enhance the client experience and assist client advice process. This enables transformation of the client engagement, and has required training of staff to become familiar and advanced practitioners in using the new modelling and illustration tools.” 

“We are also transforming our training interfaces with staff, to enable new digital ways of accessing training via different mediums, at times that suit our staff,” she said. 

“Technology has the ability to enhance the onboarding experience. Credit used to be very paper driven. We have, for example, reduced the time it takes to process a credit application,” Richards continued. “This has required new training and new techniques for our client-facing and non client-facing staff, from downloading and listening to podcasts to using our proprietary interactive illustration tool. Our key is always to keep things simple for our clients in order to simplify their challenges and to design tools that can be easily incorporated and adopted by our colleagues.”  

Exeter Partners’ Dogilewski said adapting to technology is inevitable. 

“Bankers and others must have the technology skills. It is also important to maintain and develop the skills as the next generations coming in gain those skills through school and into university,” he said. “We’re in the dawn of effective AI although I doubt ‘ChatGPT’ will be taking wealth managers’ jobs in the near future. There have been rumbles about AI wealth managers, which might have a space at the lower end of the wealth spectrum, but in the UHNW and family office space human contact is half the job. Bankers are called “relationship managers’ for a reason, the lure of a chat bot popping up in the corner of the screen to discuss clients’ needs and requests is a step too far,” Dogilewski said. 

Jetting around?
Given compliance and other matters, the role of the jet-setting private banker appears to have changed, if not permanently. And it is not just the pandemic that might have affected this. 

SG Hambros’ Richards said regulations play a part in change.

“Post Brexit we work within an increasingly regulated cross-border environment. We service clients in a restricted number of countries. After Covid, more clients request virtual engagement. Clients also maintain a close focus on service costs and advisor’s ‘jet-setting’ lifestyles is incompatible with good client outcomes!” she said. 

Dogilewski does not think bankers have become less mobile. “The reduced travel is more linked to cost controls by certain banks. Cross-border rules impact bankers on a day to day [basis] across Europe, although banks have found ways to get around this. Seeing clients face to face is as important as it always was, clients prefer in-person contact and appreciate the efforts made by their bankers, instead of over Zoom. This goes for local onshore bankers to international bankers based in one region covering clients in another.”

Another big theme in recent years has been that wealth management must be less “male, pale and stale.”

Bray said there have been changes. 

“Many wealth management firms have made progress in the past five years in hiring more women, especially senior roles and leadership positions. Most of industry will tell you it is still far from ideal but many of our clients have made efforts to improve in this area in the past five to seven years; they’ve deliberately worked to improve and add the number of females on their teams in senior roles and `seats at the table’. Most firms want more diversity with non-white professionals (male or female), though it is sometimes challenging to find qualified candidates in some markets." 

Bowyer said the diversity issue is crucial. 

“This is a very important topic, but one which must be addressed in a balanced way, to avoid `tokenism’ and truly create an inclusive, welcoming culture. The best candidate should ultimately get the job, regardless of the position. Firms recruiting individuals just to meet gender equality targets for instance run the risk of not creating a culture which is inclusive of all. The overall culture must be transparent, positive and striving to continuously improve,” he said. 

“At Kingswood Group, we have taken steps such as unconscious bias training, particularly in the recruitment of new colleagues, to ensure we address such issues. As the organisation has grown, we have also looked at our HR policies and people strategy to ensure that we have the best possible environment for our culture to develop and mature,” he said. 

Finally, what makes a good wealth manager? 

“Interpersonal skills and life experience counts for a lot. It’s evident that there will be many bankers suitable for each client. There has to be an element of trust and a bond when a client is entrusting their hard-earned wealth to the banker and the bank,” Dogilewski added.

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