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Looking beyond wealth management

From studying biotechnology to leading Julius Baer, curiosity has been a strong driving force in CEO Philipp Rickenbacher’s career. “It has allowed me to see the world through different lenses.” This broad vision on life has also been a constant in Julius Baer’s 130 year-old history. “The bank has always been more than an outstanding wealth manager,” says Rickenbacher. In a recent conversation, the CEO explains how this tradition has led to the new company purpose 'Creating Value Beyond Wealth' and what it means for its stakeholders.

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If you had three words or phrases to describe yourself, which ones would you pick?
Philipp Rickenbacher: “They would be curiosity, lateral thinker and team player. I am curious about what’s happening in the world – I want to see new things, I want to discover new knowledge, I’m intrigued by it. I would say I am a lateral thinker. I like to think not just within my box, but beyond my box and rethink the box in space from time to time, to look at things from different perspectives – this probably comes with my curiosity. And then I’d say I am a team player. I like to do things in a team together with people rather than just on my own behind my desk.”

How did these characteristics determine your professional choices, from studying biotechnology to becoming the CEO of a wealth management firm? 
“My professional choices were quite non-linear and they have reflected the curiosity with which I have gone about life. I did classical languages at high school and spent a bit of time in foreign countries learning languages. I then came back to study biotechnology at ETH Zurich, because I thought that this was the only time in life when you could do something like that. During this time, I started to learn the value of money and engaged in banking for the first time. I went into consulting, which was the broadest thing that one could do, and finally, I centred in on banking at Julius Baer. I think even my career path at Julius Baer allowed me to see the world through different lenses. This has been sort of the ‘fil rouge’ throughout my entire professional life.” 

My career path allowed me to see the world through different lenses.

What from your background do you take with you into your meetings with clients? And what do you learn from them?
“I try to take everything with me when I go and see clients. I try to obviously take my background, my curiosity and hopefully some insights into the world, together with many questions I have about what might be. I try to take in what I have learnt in the last discussion with clients or with external stakeholders, and I always find it intriguing if I have the opportunity to connect clients and minds, and to bring ideas together. I also try to take my humour and personality into the meeting as we’re also humans, after all. With clients, it is as much about making a human connection as it is about the content of the discussion.” 

How would you describe Julius Baer’s role – in the life of its clients, in the life of its employees and in the communities where it operates? 
“Over the last 130 years, Julius Baer has always been, at its core, an outstanding wealth manager: our key role is to help our clients grow, preserve and pass on wealth. But – and it is a huge ‘but’ – with our company purpose of ‘creating value beyond wealth’, we have set the stage to enhance these circles in a concentric manner, to help clients’ families  thrive. We want to help clients look into the world, into the future and understand what is happening. For us as a company, it means to also focus on the societies in which we live and to give back. That is really what Julius Baer is all about.” 

We want to help clients look into the world, into the future and understand what is happening.

You presented a three-year strategy for Julius Baer in 2020 – what will be next?
"You are asking that question half way into the race, we still have some work ahead of us. We set out three priorities at the beginning of 2020: shift to sustainable profit growth, sharpen our value proposition for sophisticated high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals, and accelerate investments in human advice and technology. We have achieved a lot already, and we have done all this whilst managing through a pandemic and remaining very close to clients in 2020, but there is still more to be done. 

Obviously, this is going to keep us busy for the next 18 months. We will further develop our strategic steps towards our long-term vision, which will be very much influenced by our purpose ‘creating value beyond wealth’. Right now, we are laying the groundwork for everything that is yet to come."

Looking back, Julius Baer has performed remarkably well during the pandemic. What have we learned and what is here to stay, both in wealth management and in societies at large?
“I have grown maybe even more proud of Julius Baer in the last year than before. I would like to start with our people and highlight just how great they are, how great they have been at operating under difficult circumstances, adding to the overall resilience of Julius Baer. I think we have been a very resilient firm throughout this crisis: we have proven that our risk management approach, our processes, our parameters were right. But we’ve also shown our ability to multitask, to have a broad bandwidth, to run transformation next to both crisis management and maintaining very close attention to detail for our clients. We will certainly take some of this flexibility, some of this bandwidth, some of this resilience into the future, maybe together with a few new work practises and with new digital tools that enable us to add value over the next ten years.”

I think we have been a very resilient firm throughout this crisis.

How have you personally dealt with the situation? How do you invest in your personal health? 
“I am lucky that I don’t have to reflect too much about what is going on, as my life is happening at a relatively high speed anyway. This said, I think I have a degree of resilience myself. I take any new situation as it comes and rather try to see the opportunity than the challenge. I try to take my breaks and a few conscious hours off during the day and during the week, so that I can recharge my batteries and have the energy to start again the next morning. But then, it is also easy to do this when you do things with joy and with passion. The boundary between work and private life can be quite blurred like that.”

We know that you are a music lover, and that music can be a great way to relax or recharge. What’s currently on your Spotify playlist?
“You would not find a Spotify playlist, I like Spotify, but I love Tidal, so you would find a Tidal playlist. On this right now you would find the current Mahler Zyklus of the Berlin Philharmonic, which is lovely to listen to and a great experience to dive into. You would find a few classics like The Köln Concert of Keith Jarrett, which I have been listening to recently. And then you would find a long list of things, actually with no names, that my 15 year old daughter has put on and that keep me perfectly in tune with what is listened to today.”

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