|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
June 26, 2018
June 26, 2018
At 61, Ansbacher, a dynamic financial services provider with over $7 billion in assets under administration, is growing bigger and stronger in The Bahamas, acquiring three banks including Edmond de Rothschild (Bahamas) Ltd. These moves come as the dust settles on a changing of the guard at the top of the organization with Andrew Alexiou taking the helm. The company is now poised to explore new technology aimed at greater engagement of clients, while keeping pace with an intensifying global regulatory environment.
A lot has changed since The Bahamas Investor last sat down for an interview with Ansbacher in 2011, but other things have remained the same. One of the oldest trust companies in The Bahamas, Ansbacher prides itself on catering to the financial wellbeing of an exclusive clientele of high-net-worth individuals (HNWI), corporations and institutions, particularly in turbulent times.
The firm, which celebrated its diamond jubilee last year, traces its origins to January 3, 1957, when the company opened its doors to the world as the Bahamas International Trust Company or BITCO, owned by a banking consortium. The financial services entity, however, takes its name from a 1989 acquisition, which saw BITCO sold to the Ansbacher Group of Companies, a provider of tailored financial solutions for the wealthy.
Ansbacher changed hands four more times, finally being acquired by AF Holdings in 2009. The purchase presented an opportunity to accelerate the financial services provider’s growth.
In recent times, The Bahamas, like other offshore jurisdictions, has witnessed a shift in multinational offshore companies returning onshore. Capitalizing on that trend, Ansbacher saw strategic advantages in deploying capital to acquire three banks: Finter Bank (Bahamas); PKB (Private Bank) Antigua; and Edmond de Rothschild (Bahamas) Ltd–a relatively well- known trio in The Bahamas and the Caribbean.
“We’ve had quite a bit of growth as a result, both organic and through the acquisitions that we have managed to accomplish,” confirms Alexiou, Ansbacher’s new managing director. The UK-trained attorney, assumed the post in July 2017.
Prior to joining the bank, Alexiou acted as legal counsel for AF Holdings Group of Companies, which includes Colina Insurance, the largest life and health insurance company in The Bahamas, and Ansbacher.
Commercial law is his practice area with a focus on real estate, conveyance, insurance, banking, finance, mergers and acquisitions, arbitration and trusts.
In consolidating the various institutions into one, Ansbacher is following the blueprint laid out by its sister company, Colina, which established an industry stronghold through carefully considered acquisitions.
“Colina Insurance started out as one of the smaller insurance companies here in the local market then proceeded [when] a lot of the Canadian and US subsidiaries parent companies sold off their life insurance subsidiaries to grow by acquisition,” Alexiou explains. “Today, it is the largest life and health insurance company here on the island. We then took the same strategic approach with Ansbacher–to grow by acquisition and to grow by organic growth.”
Bigger and stronger
In 2011, when The Bahamas Investor spoke to Ansbacher’s executives the company had $1.6 billion in assets under administration. Today, it’s a little over $7 billion, according to Alexiou. Meantime, staffing levels have nearly doubled, from 45 employees to a predominantly Bahamian workforce of just over 80.
“We are still the same institution, just bigger and stronger. Our capital base is larger. Our client base is larger. We have done our best to maintain our service standards and to remain a leader in areas such as technology and just the industry in general,” says Alexiou.
“We have over $70 million in total capital. It’s a very strong capital position, of which we are quite proud. I dare say it’s one of the strongest, most well capitalized institutions on the island.”
Up to press time, there weren’t any more deals on the drawing board, although the managing director says one could never be too certain of these things. “You always have to look at opportunities as they arise but [we are] not strategically looking for anything at this time,” he says.
The right team
Alexiou succeeded former managing director Carlton Mortier. Mortier, who had nearly 40 years of domestic and international experience in public accounting, offshore fiduciary and banking industries, retired. Meanwhile, other management changes provided advancement opportunities for various team members to rise through the ranks.
“People do retire and move on. We’ve promoted internally and also we’ve had some new hires joining the bank. Today we have a very strong team that I’m very proud of as we look towards the future,” says Alexiou. “It’s a nice blend of seasoned individuals and young professionals, which also goes a long way in touching the multigenerational mix of our clients.”
Ansbacher, he reports, also recruited a “handful” of expat employees to further complement its local staff making for a brand new management team. “It’s a bit of a changing of the guard,” he says.
What sets Ansbacher apart from its competitors, Alexiou says, is the meaningful ways in which it combines resources and draws on the expertise of its sister company, Colina. “We can never discount our connection to a much larger financial group here in The Bahamas. While other institutions locally have access to their head office overseas, we have access to a wide ranging group of professionals here in The Bahamas. Being part of one of the largest financial groups locally with over 700 employees is certainly a strength,” says Alexiou.
“We can find knowledge at our fingertips, with access to accountants, bankers, lawyers and non-banking related activities just within this building,” says the managing director, referencing the firm’s fourth floor office at 308 East Bay Street, a building it shares with Colina, a firm offering life and health insurance, and investments and retiring planning, the latter pair through Colina Financial Advisors Ltd (CFAL).
“We have a strong, stable institution. We want to build on our good foundation,” says Alexiou. “The team that we have in place today will allow us to shift and change courses a bit to look more into the future.”
To that end, Ansbacher recently formed a new department focused on digital innovation and technology headed by Fintech specialist Kelly Banks. Although still very much in its infancy, the department’s goal is to build on the technology the firm currently utilizes and propel the institution forward, setting it apart from competitors.
Next generation of clients
With a client base spanning 75 countries it is imperative for Ansbacher to be able to utilize technology to the best of its advantage, ultimately building stronger relationships with clients. “We are trying to find ways to engage best with our clients so that they can feel like we are not miles and miles away,” says Alexiou.
“Our clients are multigenerational and multi-jurisdictional. We have clients on our books from the days when we first opened our doors back in 1957. Those original clients might no longer be with us, but the heirs of those clients are. So you may have one particular family, or client, that’s in three or four or more different locations,” says the managing director.
Developing unique, long-term solutions that build wealth and ensure adequate asset protection and estate planning for future generations is only half the job. Ansbacher first has to be able to reach out and touch those clients wherever in the world they might be and communicate in all major foreign languages.
Moreover, the firm has to be responsive and capable of satisfying a diverse, demanding clientele in a global regulatory environment that changes “lightning fast.”
Add to the mix the fact that new investors are younger, more technologically adept and have more demands than previously. Not surprisingly, today’s wealth managers face a balancing act satisfying the needs of an older generation which might not necessarily want to do private banking on the phone with a younger generation that does.
“You have to find a way to balance the two, almost keeping your feet in two worlds,” advises Alexiou. “Many of our clients are older, but there’s also the younger, more technologically adept clients that we have to change for. So we have to do our best to develop new technologies in order to engage with them.”
Understanding and positively responding to generational differences is critical. The firm realizes just how crucial it is to rollout a diverse communication platform, one that could resonate with multiple generations and successfully placate the next generation of HNWIs, who demand more access to their wealth via technology. “They want to be able to make payments, trade online and generally have more than just a view only access of their account,” says Alexiou.
Ansbacher’s practice of facilitating direct access between clients and the executive management team is one of its unique selling points. “Our relationship officers, heads of private banking and even our principals, they are willing and open to meeting with clients and they do often meet with clients on a day-to-day basis,” says Alexiou. “Our clients get that personalized feel that they are not going to get at other, bigger institutions.”
That level of service tends to attract referrals from existing clients. Then there’s business that comes by way of strategic partnerships. Ansbacher exerts time and energy cultivating its professional network of international lawyers, accountants, and their firms.
“Many times we have lawyers or accountants in other jurisdictions looking to develop a structure for an international client. Obviously, we do our best to be in the forefront of their minds so that we can provide them with a proposal or engage with them and to hopefully try to secure that business,” says Alexiou, who agrees that The Bahamas, as an offshore financial centre, has much to offer.
As The Bahamas works to maintain its standing as a leader in private banking, the Ansbacher managing director admits there is room for improvement in key areas.
“We, unfortunately, face a number of external factors that are very much outside of our control. One of the things we can do is continue to pay very close attention to the jurisdiction’s ease of doing business to ensure we are able to attract and retain clients internationally,” he says.
“The regulatory environment changes so quickly that The Bahamas has to be careful not to be too laissez-faire. We can’t have a low-key attitude. The global regulatory environment and the pace of international business don’t slow down just because The Bahamas isn’t ready, so we have to stay on top of our game and always be a leader. We will never get ahead if we’re always playing catch up. We have to get ahead of the curve.”