Vontobel’s erudite, poker-faced asset management boss, Zeno Staub, addressed a rapt audience at PWM’s European Investment Series seminar in Zurich.
He set a challenge for Switzerland’s wealth managers – reform your buisiness models or lose market share. Mr Staub talked about a wide-scale movement from discretionary to advisory models, re-assessing service needs and investing in portfolio management and asset allocation.
“We need a quite intense overhaul of how we do business,” he told me before he stepped up to the rostrum. As rival banks pull out of servicing American clients, fearing the wrath of Obama’s administration and its attack on tax evaders, Mr Staub believes a focus on discretion and privacy is essential.
Will Switzerland’s banks change their ways? So far there has been little evidence of any changes to operating models. While clients clearly distrust structured products, sales of derivative-based structures are up once again.
Excessively bond-based client portfolios fail to address economic realities. An asset allocation process – still one-size-fits-all – which did not weather the storms of two successive crashes waits to be reformed.
Then again, Mr Staub is used to setbacks. He is a die-hard fan of Grasshoppers Zurich football club. When he talks about the recent travails of his team, there is always a poignant sense of loss in his voice, even if his face does not betray his emotions.