While the coronavirus pandemic has hit many industries hard, others, like wealth management, have proven markedly more resilient, says Régis Burger, Head of Middle East & Africa at Julius Baer. What is it about this industry – and this region itself – that makes it so geared toward the future?
The Middle East & Africa, a hotbed of wealth creation, has seen an acceleration in trends relating to succession planning, alternate investment vehicles such as private equity and a serious focus on sustainability.
UAE, the key growth market for the region, has been making waves given the recent announcement of several milestones in various sectors including legislative, health, economy and space. It is also the home of Expo 2020 from October 2021 to March 2022. In fact, the UAE is booming like never before, says Alireza Valizadeh, CEO of Julius Baer (Middle East) Ltd.
“Our decision to establish our first footprint in the region with an office in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) way back in 2004 has definitely paid off and we have capitalised on our first mover advantage,” says Alireza.
The rise of financial wellness
The pandemic and accompanying economic uncertainty has seen a growing emphasis on wealth preservation – particularly for the next generation. While wellness has been heavily discussed in mental and physical contexts for some time now, 2020 also saw interest in another term developing: financial wellness.
As a generational black swan event, the coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented degree of uncertainty, not only on a global economic level, but also on individuals.
“Many clients have taken a long hard look at their finances with an increasing focus on leaving a legacy and preserving their wealth for the next generation,” explains Régis Burger, Head of Middle East & Africa.
“While this is a known concern, the harsh reality of the global pandemic has further encouraged families to focus on ensuring stability and longevity throughout their wealth journeys."
Adding that this kind of financial wellness is now more important to clients than ever before, he says: “We believe that supporting the well-being of all the family members in this way is fundamental to what we do.
“We launched our first ever financial literacy initiative late last year and we hope that through this six month programme, we are able to assist our clients and their families in their wealth journey.”
Alireza seconds that: “We see the pride that our clients have when they see their children engaging with the bank and they laud our efforts to support the education journey of their loved ones.
“Another great example is a three-week long bootcamp that is run in the Dubai office which not only engages client children but also those of our employees and provides them with a window into the world of Swiss Private Banking.”
The client of tomorrow
Julius Baer has noted a substantial shift in its client base, with women and younger investors having an increasingly larger role in the wealth manager’s discussions.
“Our wealth management approach has always been inclusive in order to stay relevant to the client of the future,” says Régis. “Our focus is on the values and expectations of these emerging client groups so that we can equip our relationship managers with the necessary skill sets.”
Now, he adds: “It is more important for relationship managers to focus on a client’s overall needs and a holistic approach going beyond just investment solutions.”
Having been a Relationship Manager himself, Alireza also notes there has been a substantial shift in mindsets. “In the region, traditionally, clients who run first- or second-generation family businesses have sought stable cash flows and fixed income, which has typically worked very well for them over the past decade.
“However, with more opportunities now available, clients are shifting part of their interest towards private equity or alternative investments with a slant towards companies focused on artificial intelligence, cloud computing and even biotech.”
With demand rising for alternative investment, there has also been a move towards broader experiences that will fulfil the needs of this shifting client base and align with their investment approach.
“Areas such as digital banking platforms and financial education are at the forefront of our transformation journey to ensure we continue to be the wealth manager of choice for future clients,” explains Régis.
Responsible wealth management
It’s already been well-reported that the pandemic saw ramped up interest in sustainable investments over the course of 2020. Now, the case for building a more resilient world is clearer than ever. “The pandemic has served as a call to action for everyone – from governments to the private sector and society as whole,” says Régis.
“It is clear that the finance industry has an important role to play in enabling capital shifts towards a more equitable future and healthier planet for generations to come.”
How is Julius Baer looking to the future?
With this in mind, Julius Baer developed its responsible investment framework, which aims to empower clients, employees and wider stakeholders to make a positive and measurable impact on the world. “While creating this sustainable and value-driven ecosystem for our clientele, we want to continue our role of being responsible citizens,” says Régis.
Through this process, the wealth manager is developing “client communities” to bring together like-minded investors for debate, education, shared ambitions and action, adds Régis.
The Swiss wealth manager has also made moves to try to manage and actively contribute to the communities it operates in, says Alireza. “Be it our recent move to a Platinum LEED-certified green building in the Dubai International Financial Centre, or collaborating with local NGOs to plant trees in Dubai for a better tomorrow, it is important to engage our employees in this journey to achieve our collective ambitions.”
Investing in the future
Régis reaffirms the statement, ‘How we invest today is how we live tomorrow’. This ethos has always been important to Julius Baer in terms of shaping the future, he adds, not just for clients but also stakeholders.
“This goes beyond our research on our next-generation investment philosophy, which looks at mega trends that will impact the future. For us, it is about creating a dialogue with our clients on what this collective future will look like and how we can help translate this narrative into holistic and impactful investment solutions.”
This philosophy is something demonstrated through Julius Baer’s Formula E sponsorship, which naturally lends itself to discussions on future mobility – something the company has analysed at length – as well as energy transition.
“This is a conversation we want to have with our clients and we feel Formula E provides us with a great platform to put a spotlight on one of the next generation mega trends and how these will shape the world of tomorrow,” says Régis. “The race in Riyadh is especially crucial for us as it helps us create awareness about the future of mobility in the largest market in the region.”
Alireza sees events such as Expo 2020 Dubai as an opportunity to bring these discussions to life. “These mega events provide a glimpse of futuristic trends and we clearly see a synergy between such mega activations and our investment philosophy. Expo 2020 presents an amazing opportunity to highlight the growth opportunities in the region and showcase UAE as a forward-thinking economy”.
The digital journey
With worldwide lockdowns coming in and out of force over the past year, organisations across virtually every sector have had to rapidly fast-track – or develop entirely new – digital transformation journeys.
Companies of all sizes have been required to adapt quickly to market and environmental shifts, and Julius Baer is no exception. The purpose of improving agility goes beyond technology, enabling the wealth manager to develop new solutions over shorter cycles while delivering an ever-improving user experience.
It is something Régis credits to Julius Baer’s increasing digitalisation investment, which he says will bring efficiencies that benefit the client life cycle over the long term.
He points to the Digital Advisory Suite (DiAS), “which supports Julius Baer’s focus on human relationships with award-winning technology”, as an example of a shift towards a hybrid model. “Our robo-assistant that combines suitability checks with investment proposals and portfolio monitoring supports our relationship managers in personalising the advisory process without losing the human interaction that is so important to our clients. This frees up even more valuable time for them to take care of our clients’ needs.”
“In 2020 and 2021 alone we made huge investments in our digital and client-facing solutions to enhance features such as digital on-boarding, including video ID, state-of-the-art e-signature technology and chat functionalities which was then rolled out to regional locations including Dubai,” says Alireza.
So what lies ahead for the company? Régis explains: “The plan is to invest even more into new digital touchpoints and processes that connect clients and prospects directly to Julius Baer – allowing our teams to work much more efficiently from anywhere and at any time.”