Wealth Blog

Private banker must seek their inner geek

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 10:55am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 10:56am

The heady days of the early tech boom seem to be back. Increasing amounts of cash are sloshing through the world’s Silicon Valleys as the new generation of “technorati” launch, develop, and flog profitable technology start-ups. Apparently the cost of setting up an online business is 95 per cent less than it was in 2000. So even if you fail, the financial barriers to entry are so much lower and you can have several start-ups at once without losing your shirt. And you really only need one to fly, which brings me to private banking.

But those poor old wealth managers, doggedly focusing on family governance and succession planning and persuading their Ultra High Net Worth customers that philanthropy is much better for their souls than evading tax. Their work is even more cut out here, being a low tax regime, but I digress. As wealth research site Wealth X says, the private banking industry is now wondering how to appear valuable to these super-rich geeks, all in their twenties and probably viewing private banking as something from the dark ages.

If wealth managers can succeed, the rewards are high. According to Wealth X, the top ten most loaded technology entrepreneurs under 30 are worth US$25 billion (HK$154.3 billion) between them. They’ve amassed this cash by growing their own companies, mostly in the decade since the dotcom bubble burst and sent them scampering back to their drawing keyboards. Some of them were still in nappies back then. These include names such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (aged 29, with assets of US$17.3 billion (HK$106.8 billion), Dustin Moskovitz of Asana (aged 29, with a net worth of US$4.2 billion (HK$26 billion), and Christopher Hughes of Jumo, (also 29, with a fortune of US$950 million (HK$5.86 billion). All figures courtesy of Wealth X.

Wealth managers get with the program

These guys all know how to run lean, mean companies, and as the website suggests, private bankers might appear “stuffy, old-fashioned and expensive” to them.

Wealth X says the wealth managers who win in the “technopreneurial” space must be nimble, have access to quick funding, a flawless digital and social media interface, provide introductions to wealthy investors, give forward-thinking estate and tax planning advice, and – have access to investment banking for initial public offerings. And they must deliver value-for-money. Phew.

They doubt that many wealth managers can meet these requirements, they add. No kidding. Who really understands the technology scene in 2013? Basically those raised on it and immersed in it. What high tech gizmos do private bankers use themselves?

If private banks are going to reel in tech entrepreneurs and the next generation of money, they need immersion in digital media. Wealth X mentions ABM Amro and Société Générale as “two institutions that offer a convincing comprehensive approach across media to reach their tech-fluent wealthy clients.”

The new generation of - perhaps a touch bratty - techopreneurs will apparently be “irritated,” if they cannot find their wealth manager on all channels, if their financial information is not spot on, and response times not instant. “Wealth management is built on trust and trust starts from the first contact. Nowadays that is mostly online.” Those in the hallowed halls in Zurich must be quaking.

Some banks are up with the program. Wealth X says Citi Private Bank has two relationship managers: both former investment bankers, based in Silicon Valley, dedicated to tech entrepreneurs and start-ups. They say tech entrepreneurs are still in the wealth accumulation mode when they rock up and need help with tax and structuring. Don’t we all. One thing they frequently need is hand-holding to understand the taxation of their equity component and what happens post-initial public offering. “Frequently asked questions include how they can monetize the value, how they can diversify their value or how can they protect their value,” one banker tells Wealth X. “Once we review this with them, the typical response is, ‘I wish I had known all of this earlier.’”

It seems you have to grab them young, “before they become monetized.” But how does your average private banker know which ones to lasso? After all, most tech entrepreneurs will fail. And even the stellar performers are all young. There’s nothing for it: private bankers who are serious about escaping their current low-yield trough must retrain as tech-savvy kindergarten teachers to learn how to spot the pre-pubescent techopreneurs.