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Features - July 2011

 

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Nurturing client relationships

Nurturing client relationships

Managing wealth is more about the human touch than the money, say Bahamian financial services providers

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2011
July 13, 2011
Catherine Boal

Building a lasting relationship between client and financial services provider is vital to successful wealth management. Portfolio managers must create an atmosphere of trust, honesty and mutual understanding if they are to effectively respond to their client’s needs.

This rapport is a delicate thing and, in a sector where the leading financial institutions all offer similar products, it is crucial to stand apart from the crowd and gain a reputation for high quality customer service.

The top institutions are those that take the time to get to know their clients and engage with them on a personal level.

The personal touch
Most financial services providers require that their long-standing clients come to their offices at least once to meet their wealth manager face to face. Making this connection is key to the success of the provider/client relationship according to Gian Fadri Pinösch, managing director and chief executive officer of Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild Ltd.

“It is crucial [to meet face to face],” says Pinösch. “You have to get a feel for the person. You need to know the client consistently. Frequent interaction with a client helps to build mutual confidence … it’s like being an old couple! We are a bank, but we also deal with emotions and try to translate that into wealth management.”

Benno Räber, partner with Prime Advisory Group, believes that these meetings have a personal touch that cannot be replicated when business is conducted over the phone or electronically.

“There are two reasons why face-to-face meetings are so important: firstly, people cannot hide behind an electronic profile or an image. When you are doing business you want to look the other person in the eye and see if they are for real. Secondly, it underlines the importance of the meeting. In an area where a lot of information is sent electronically, there is still a lot of information that clients–whether traditional or tech-savvy–are willing to show only when they are face to face.

“It is also important that we get to talk in a place where the client is physically removed from his surroundings and not distracted by his daily routine,” continues Räber. “If it is not their usual environment, they are more open and we can see their body language.”

As a private risk management firm, Prime Advisory Group handles a myriad of issues for clients ranging from family governance and succession to legal and tax queries. With a lot of the discussions focusing on intricate and often personal problem-solving, Räber says it is vital to know your client.

“What a client may perceive as a problem may not be one. Also, he may be exposed to large risks without being aware of it. We identify problems, consult on the issues and identify the importance of an issue to a client.

“We look at their priorities and uncover the difficulties and opportunities.”

Marcelo Hernandez, senior manager at Ansbacher (Bahamas)?Ltd, agrees. “The only way you can get to know a client is by talking to them. I have had clients tell me they are conservative, but then they say they want a 10 per cent return!”

Wining and dining
Part of developing a sophisticated relationship with clients is to make them feel at ease. Visiting clients of Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild are welcomed into the bank’s offices in Lyford Cay, Nassau, which have been carefully designed to make clients feel at home, with high quality artwork and furnishings.

“The majority of our clients come from Europe and are very attached to what is European,” explains Pinösch. “We have therefore tried to recreate the atmosphere our clients are accustomed to.”

After the initial business meetings with relevant members of the bank’s team, clients are introduced to the more social aspects of The Bahamas. The type of activity depends on the client’s situation; some travel with their families and can stay from a few days to a couple of weeks.

According to Pinösch, the most popular activities are those that take advantage of The Bahamas’ beautiful climate. “If they want to enjoy themselves while they are here then they go fishing or play tennis or golf–outdoor activities. We take them sailing, and have also taken clients to Harbour Island,” he says.

Although the first priority of any trip is always business, Pinösch says the clients are often swept away by the natural beauty of The Bahamas.

“Some clients come here and say ‘I would love to buy a private island;’ some say ‘I’d like to buy a yacht.’ You never know if they are serious or not.”

On joining Ansbacher Bahamas, clients are brought to the bank’s offices in Nassau so client and service provider can get to know each other better.

“New clients always have to have an initial face-to-face meeting,” says Hernandez. “We have them come into the office and spend a couple of hours with us to see the bricks and mortar of the place, meeting some of the key people. Then we take them to lunch or dinner depending on whether they have come with their families or not.”

To customize a pleasant trip for their guests, Ansbacher Bahamas assists in planning deluxe hotel accommodation and becomes relatively familiar with their interests, needs and requirements.

“You spend some time finding out what the client is looking for. We know some of the charter boat captains, so we can take them fishing in Andros or wherever, and show them around,” says Ansbacher Bahamas managing director Carlton Mortier. “All this is done with the object of trying to get to know your client (KYC) and understand them to [ascertain] their expectations.”

Client entertaining
Prime Advisory Group’s Räber is another provider who tailors his schedule around the client’s interests and needs. “Business meetings last half a day, what we do after that depends on the client and whether they have been here before,” he says. “We might have dinner and drinks depending on their situation. There are people who do not want to be seen in public, so we might go to a private house.”

When it comes to wining and dining, Hernandez says Nassau has many good options. He typically takes guests to Café Matisse or one of the restaurants in the Atlantis complex, such as Mesa Grill or Café Martinique.

Räber also highlights Café Matisse as a good spot for impressing guests. He also recommends the boutique hotel and restaurant A Stone’s Throw Away and Graycliff, but says the choice of eatery must match the client’s tastes.

“Café Matisse is unique for The Bahamas and very consistent. It depends on the client. If we have a very conservative client we will go to Graycliff.”

Then there are times when the client has a different idea. “There was one client who stayed at Atlantis and brought an entourage with his own private chef,” laughs Räber. “That was a bit of a challenge.”

Mixing work and play
With the social aspect such a key feature of any successful financial relationship, it is particularly important to strike a balance between being the client’s friend and his wealth manager. Pinösch believes that a consistent, communicative relationship that is based on trust is vital, as is the ability to maintain a professional distance.

“Trust is the most important thing. The client has to trust the bank and the bank has to trust the client. It is a continually developing relationship.

“[Getting the balance between socializing and business] is sometimes difficult because we are all human,” he continues. “You have to keep a cold eye focused on what you are doing and ensure that the clients’ expectations are always surpassed. A major benefit of combining business and play is that clients are typically more candid in a social setting.”

Benno Räber also believes that keeping it professional is the only way to ensure a productive relationship.

“It is a personal choice and my personal choice is that you can become as good a friend as your professional relationship allows,” he explains. “It requires you to keep an arm’s length distance.”

According to Hernandez, honesty is one of the fundamental components of every relationship with a client and is especially important when delivering bad news.

“You have to be upfront with clients and tell them everything,” he says. “Once you know a client’s character, you can be prepared to field any complaints or objections he has. If a client is not happy he will let you know. If you have some bad results, you better have told the client what his risks were and what to expect.”

“The important things are integrity and honesty,” agrees Räber. “We [at Prime Advisory Group] call ourselves ‘common sense people.’ What is key is that you advise a client based on your own personal experiences, in a way that he can relate to you and take you seriously. It really boils down to your personal relationship with your client.”

Building a reputation
A happy client whose needs are being met is a client that plays an active role in the success of his bank.

Carrying out a client’s wishes to the letter is something every good financial institution can do, but the top providers are those that go the extra mile in terms of customer service.

This is something that Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild recognizes. “Our people have worked with their clients for many years to build their trust,” explains Pinösch. “We are an international bank, but on a human level, we really are still functioning like a family bank. We have the luxury of being able to take the time to fully grasp our client’s needs today and to properly plan for their heirs’ future. We choose the best options for each client after understanding who they are and where they come from.”

Ansbacher Bahamas echoes this. “Every institution offers the same things. We focus more on the service side, making sure we are there for the client’s needs,” Hernandez explains.

For Prime Advisory Group it is particularly important to keep clients satisfied. “We are not a bank, we are not measured by returns and investments. We are measured by resolving issues, sitting with the client and helping him to make a rational decision,” explains Räber.

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