INTERVIEW WITH NICOLAS GONET - SPHÈRE MAGAZINE - JULY 2017
“WE MUST EMBRACE NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND NEW USES”
Interview with Nicolas Gonet, CEO
By Jérôme Sicard - Sphère Magazine - July 2017
In the spring, the Gonet Group published its results for the first time, clearly highlighting the strong growth recorded over the course of these past ten years and the substantive work carried out to achieve it. Nicolas Gonet, its CEO, discusses the key points.
How did you feel about publishing the Gonet Group’s results for the first time?
Nicolas Gonet: "To tell the truth, I felt a certain sense of relief. For 170 years, we did not communicate a single figure, and I began to find that a bit anachronistic in a time when we were demanding more and more transparency of our clients.
Beyond these considerations, there is also a certain pride in finally being able to highlight the work accomplished in the past few years. These first results demonstrate all that we have achieved. In the end, this allows us to communicate more clearly to our clients, prospective clients and business partners, as well as to managers who may be interested in working with us. We can position ourselves more easily in relation to them, and there are advantages to this transparency."
When these results are read, how would you like Gonet bank to be perceived from the outside?
"Just as it is. On the one hand, as a serious and reassuring bank. For example, it was important for us to show in black and white that our equity is well above the norms set by regulatory requirements. On the other hand, these results are concrete evidence of a growth dynamic that we hope will maintain its momentum."
You say, for that matter, that you now have a foundation that will allow you to embark on a new phase of development. In what form?
"It’s helpful to remember that the bank entered a growth phase about ten years ago. In 2008, we managed only a few hundred million Swiss francs. We will soon manage more than 4.5 billion, and it would be even more if we hadn’t decided to leave Monaco and Singapore. If we’ve made this much progress, it is because we adopted a highly entrepreneurial business model with asset managers – currently around 25 – at the heart of our system. Thanks to this model, which has demonstrated its relevance and which we have perfectly implemented, we are ready to integrate new managers in order to accelerate our growth."
Are you talking about acquisitions?
"Yes, certainly. We can work with individual managers and teams, but we can also integrate existing structures. We only buy, of course, provided that the price is fair and there is a convergence of cultures and market complementarity. The wealth management profession is transforming, the changes are accelerating, and we are determined to make the most of the opportunities that will surely present themselves. We are organised and structured to this end."
How do you approach external managers who might want to work with you?
"Independent wealth managers are professionals; they know the field as well as we do. It's important to them to work with people who can quickly understand their work and make their business easier. Our interests are completely aligned with theirs. Like us, they are savvy entrepreneurs who want to grow while maintaining their independence. We have adopted a service mindset rather than a product mindset, and we have no internal product range to impose on them. Like them, we work with an open architecture policy in order to identify the best opportunities on the markets. For example, we have an advisory division within the bank that carries out research, and managers in particular appreciate this. Moreover, we offer them all the services that we provide within the bank. I am thinking in particular of Gonet Conseils Finances, which is specialised in areas such as mortgage advisory, and insurance and tax management advisory. Finally, our size allows us to be very responsive, and we are completely available to them because we have implemented a dedicated structure that is simple, light and fluid."
Alexandre Michellod will head the "Occupational Benefits & Wealth Solutions” department. Can you discuss this in more detail?
"The creation of such a department was the result of a twofold observation. On the one hand, the importance of retirement planning as part of an individual or corporate wealth scheme has become critical: on the individual scale, it is a variable to be adjusted earlier and earlier – we should no longer wait until after we are 60 years old to start addressing it – and at the company level, it is a result of healthy management, in terms of derisking, for example, or professional attractiveness. On the other hand, as I already mentioned, this expertise was the missing link in our goal of offering a truly global approach to the Group’s wealth planning for our clients residing in Switzerland, as a sort of “one-stop-shop”. Alexandre Michellod, who will join us on 1 November at the latest, is known for his talent in the field. His appointment also demonstrates that our project is logical and convincing."
What does the Switzerland-based clientele represent for Gonet?
"At the Group level, nearly 40% of our clients reside in Switzerland; you see, we are truly at the heart of the subject when it comes to this domestic market that is known for stirring up a great deal of competition."
If you had to expand your Board of Directors, what type of profile would you like to see join the Board of Directors?
"Our Board of Directors is currently expanding; it will eventually grow from three to five members. The important thing is the complementarity between profiles and the diversity of input. It is no doubt essential to have lawyers and people trained in audit and risk; it’s even better to have people who are very close to activity on the ground, able to experience and see trends in our industry directly.
Nicholas Hochstadter, who has just joined the Board, is a finance entrepreneur. I am thrilled about what he will bring to the Gonet Group, which will benefit from his experience and views, especially as regards the current movement towards transparency in asset management and the FinTech sector. The next Director will have a strong banking profile."
You are currently one of the very few private banks that have agreed to take part in the evaluation and comparison of portfolio management with Performance Watcher, developed by Nicholas Hochstadter himself. What was your motivation?
"If we want to be transparent, we must be completely transparent. For my part, I was eager to know where we stand compared to other players. And I understood how much our clients wanted to know the real worth of the manager who was handling their account. On this point, at the risk of seeming a bit avant-garde, I prefer for us to be completely open. In any case, we have to embrace new technology and the new uses that it facilitates. When you look at how Orange, and perhaps soon Swisscom, are designing banking services, you don’t want to lag too far behind…"
But aren’t Swisscom and Orange working in a more retail-based context?
"Perhaps, but I also believe that we must prepare ourselves for a new generation of consumers that might prefer to consume banking services via mobile devices. I do not think that private banking can avoid these kinds of considerations."
In terms of a business model, how should a private bank arm itself today in order to adapt to the new banking environment?
"I think it’s important to define a business model that stands out from the competition and to remain true to it, so that your clients know exactly why they’re choosing you and not another bank, and to do so consistently, rigorously and with determination. Beyond this, the new situation pushes us to think outside of the box and to demonstrate agility. "