Understanding Independent Asset Managers (IAMs) begins with a relationship of trust and openness, according to Fabrice Volluz, senior managing director, Head of IAMs Asia at Union Bancaire Privée (UBP).
As he says, “IAMs want proximity, a close-knit relationship and most importantly quick and efficient execution. After all, you don’t want to change doctor every two years and have to explain your health issues and family history all over again. What you need is continuity, someone who knows you and your business.”
The bank’s service offering follows suit. UBP gives its IAM clients access to its advisory team and to the expertise and analysis of over 200 in-house financial experts. It also allows IAMs to dial into its trading desk directly.
Volluz continues, “Regarding execution, you need to be fast and available. That’s why we’ve decided to open the bank to IAMs as much as possible by giving them, where and when we can, direct access to the trading floor.”
UBP’s offshore IAM clients are able to select from its global product range through the firm’s open architecture structure. This not only means that clients can access selectively chosen, third-party products from top tier fund managers but also that they can execute transactions through a duly approved, recognised and regulated broker dealer in the region.
What matters for IAMs is quick execution and a personal relationship
“When I joined UBP, I boarded an ocean-going yacht. Bigger banks might take a week to alter course. But a yacht not only looks beautiful, it can also pivot whenever it wants either away from danger or towards more favourable conditions and opportunities. Quite simply, flexibility and agility are in UBP’s DNA.” So says Fabrice Volluz, senior managing director at UBP.
As Volluz puts it, “UBP and its family shareholders strongly believe that the IAM business is a core component of the bank. We never see it as a complication but rather as a way to forge enduring relationships with clients by always being innovative and responsive. It has been like that at UBP since its founding and I fully believe that intermediaries will play an ever more important future role for this bank.”
The numbers tell only part of the story
UBP has expanded significantly over the years and now has a global presence and $160 billion in assets under management. Around 15% of the Wealth Management division’s assets under management currently come from IAMs. The bank enjoys a Moody’s long-term rating of Aa2 and its Tier 1 capital adequacy ratio of 27.7% makes it one of the world’s best capitalised banks. Growth in Asia has taken off in recent years and assets under management in the region continue to expand rapidly, driven by institutional, private client and Family Office business.
As an independent, family-owned Swiss bank, UBP makes its mark in Asia. For Volluz, being boutique is indeed beautiful and it means more flexibility to provide quality and personalised services to clients. This might go against the grain in a private banking world increasingly dominated by the leviathan banks.
But he is not afraid to be contrarian. Listen to him on the value of real face-to-face relationships rather than digital engagement: “Digitalisation is not the be-all and end-all in private banking. To provide the best service to intermediaries and end clients, I expect our relationship managers to be highly visible; I do not want them to spend eight hours a day on their clients’ online accounts. Clients in Asia rightly expect to have an intense level of personal service backed up by an understanding of their individual and family circumstances.”
A legacy of openness
Trust depends on transparency. Clients demand accessibility and efficiency in the management of their money. They require timely and clear reporting of performance and access to topical and “on the money” research and analysis. Engagement with clients simply has to be meaningful. Volluz understands this and was instrumental in building and managing the bank’s IAM business from its headquarters in Geneva. He joined at a time when it was becoming increasingly clear that the local domestic IAM market in Switzerland was over-served by financial institutions.
This presented an opportunity for UBP to demonstrate its fresh thinking by looking beyond Swiss borders while providing the deep knowledge of the long established Swiss IAM industry. It was a path that took Volluz to the United States and Latin America where he spent time with regional players and introduced them to the special nature of Swiss investment and custody services.
As Volluz explains, “There was strong demand from Latin American intermediaries to be able to keep their end-clients’ assets under custody with UBP in Switzerland, but still manage them onshore. Combining the two provides a great alternative to the end-client, who benefits both from local expertise and Swiss security. In Asia, the IAMs and their clients definitely have, to some extent, the same needs and requirements as anywhere else.”
In Asia, the “onshorisation” of wealth management will keep on growing and there will be more and more IAMs setting up wealth management boutiques locally to attend UHNW needs. Those IAMs will need to offer those UHNW a highly reputable jurisdiction to book their assets. In order to be successful, those IAMs will need full support of a quality boutique bank who understands the triangulation between the local IAMs, UHNW clients and the bank. This business model worked well for UBP.
Today, the bank’s global team of 40 professionals now services more than 300 IAMs from 20 locations in 8 jurisdictions. Volluz is now focused on building the IAM business in Asia, which sees fastest growth in wealth management.The business was established 2 years ago, IAM assets under management have tripled and in response to this growth, a new IAM desk in Hong Kong was established, to complement the existing team in Singapore.
This allows the clients’ of IAMs to book their assets in multiple jurisdictions in key financial centres in Asia and Europe and for IAMs to tap into UBP’s global investment expertise when formulating investment strategies for their clients. By expanding its presence with this segment of clients, UBP expects to quadruple the IAM business in Asia in the next 5 years.
Keep it simple
Turning to the growing sophistication of financial products, Volluz takes a relatively conservative stance.
As he explains, “Our business model is rather simple and involves responding to the needs of clients quickly whether straightforward or more complex. As the relationship develops, you can adjust and become more and more sophisticated, depending on the requirements of each IAM and its clients.”
UBP has a long history of wealth management innovation with services to suit all risk appetites and investment objectives. Underpinning all of this is a philosophy, as Volluz stresses, to always do right by the client by striving to keep the offer live and relevant through ideas like structured products, alternative investment funds, Direct Investments and broader Wealth Planning services.