Around the world, retail banks are being disrupted. Their transactional dominance is being eroded by smaller, more agile fintech start-ups which operate exclusively in the digital space.
Since retail banks already have access to human skills and physical infrastructure designed to service clients, many are moving away from retail offerings and focusing instead on that most personal of financial service offerings, wealth management. Recent global examples of this shift include HSBC, which is winding down operations in France and the United States, and Citibank, which is pulling its retail operations from 13 countries around the world, including big markets like China and India. Both Citibank and HSBC are shifting their focus to growing their wealth businesses, with Citibank commenting in January 2021 that it would cater to affluent and ultra-high-net-worth clients in order to “enhance returns for Citi” as part of “an important element of our strategy going forward”.
For big, global banking groups this wealth advice shift is being touted as a transformation. Ironically, it is one built on the very kind of personalised and customised client service which has been eroded over the years in a retail space overtaken by digital solutions. While this shift definitely puts more options on the table for investors, which is a good thing, it does raise the question of whether a banking institution, with its legacy of retail thinking, is the ideal partner on your wealth management journey?
Do wealth management firms still have the edge?
Each investor should take the time to consider this question carefully and determine if their unique needs can be met by a banking group’s ‘house view’ approach or if a customised solution would be preferable. If it is important to the investor to optimise a financial portfolio, if offshore structures are required, if the investor wants to explore holding global property or needs foreign exchange solutions, then an integrated wealth management advisor might be a better, more all-encompassing route to travel.
According to Anthony Palmer, Group Commercial Director for Carrick Wealth, while retail banks are elbowing their way into the wealth space by offering offshore products and financial planning sessions with clients, the depth of advice and service given by wealth management firms continues to be superior. “Retail banks are limited in that they cannot offer as wide a spectrum of ownership structures and investments as a truly independent advisor,” he explains.
Why this debate matters in Africa
For wealthy African clients, access to a wide range of options is particularly important, since wealth management solutions must consider country-specific regulations, particular political and economic considerations, succession planning and wealth transfer issues, estate structuring and diversification needs; all complex requirements which benefit from a more extensive range of options.
“Due to our independence, we generally find that we bring more choice to the table,” says Palmer. “My sense from speaking to clients is that an independent advisor such as Carrick Wealth seems to provide clients with a more holistic approach and trusted experience as they are not limited by the products and providers they can bring forward.”
Only once clients are fully aware of the suite of offerings available to them, and the allocated Carrick Private Wealth Manager has a solid sense of each client’s needs, does the discussion turn to investment portfolio needs and the many options available on that front.
In the case of Carrick Wealth, Palmer explains that in servicing the high-net-worth African market a number of unique offerings have been included which talk directly to the needs of investors from the continent. For instance, says Palmer, “we first focus on how you hold assets from an asset protection, succession and tax planning perspective”.
Certainly, quality banks both from across the African continent and globally can and do offer many investment, lending, wealth planning and personalised advice services, but the key to successful wealth management hinges on quality independent advice and choice. When making your deliberations, remember the more options you have available to you the greater chance of finding the right fit.