Three reasons bankers ditch a client

The boot's on the other foot.

HNWs are usually the ones who complain about their bankers, but 2013 has seen a power shift: the John Lobb boot is on the other foot. The introduction of a regulatory overhaul, the Retail Distribution Review, has made it more time-consuming to service clients, and so advisers are increasingly discerning in whom they work for. With mounting numbers of wealthy clients therefore being ‘managed out’, an explanation of what makes a relationship tricky and how you can avoid the cull is timely.

The chief complaint that bankers make is the level of attention that clients demand. Have you ever interrupted your adviser’s wedding anniversary with a telephone grumble about the S&P or disturbed their sleep with a quibble about the Nikkei?

Such behaviour (unsurprisingly) irks bankers, despite all their protestations of intense availability for your needs, because at the top end of the market they are only allowed to work for 30 clients, to guarantee five-star service, and if one of their clients takes up double the amount of time that leaves less time to reap fees from others. (Their fees are not your first concern, clearly.)

Equally, at the lower end of the market, bankers take on up to 400 clients, meaning that HNWs who insist on daily dialogues chew into time that could be devoted to attracting new accounts paying 1 per cent per annum. 

The wealthy will rebuke their bankers on the grounds that many sell themselves on bespoke service. Beauty parades are often won with platitudes like ‘I’m just a phone call away’, as well as assurances that advisers in local jurisdictions are accessible day and night. 

The solution, therefore, is to have your banker explain at the outset how much time they intend to dedicate to you. "That solves the most frequent problem," says a top CEO, "which is when clients say that they are happy with discretionary relationships whereby bankers do the day-to-day investment and then report back quarterly, when, in fact, they want much more active roles discussing portfolio moves weekly in a manner reminiscent of advisory relationships.’

The reverse — a communication freeze — is not much liked by bankers either. The reason is that snap-firing decisions are much more likely when clients aren’t given regular outlets to vent their frustrations — ‘so it’s important to use the annual lunch to explain your position and give your banker the chance to change," says the CEO. "Silence may suggest happiness on the surface, but it often doesn’t under the veneer, so bankers will always appreciate hearing from you approximately four times a year."

Beyond communication levels, the second sin that bankers complain about in their clients is when they vary their expectations. While legitimate after a radical transformation in circumstances like a lottery win, those who change their minds based on market movements are not appreciated.

For example, in the mid-Noughties, many bankers would report to clients that they had made 10 per cent and the response would often be:"My friend got 15 per cent — I’d like to take more risk, please." Now, however, the economic winds have changed and those same clients are happy if offered 4 per cent — proof, if ever there were, that expectations can fluctuate as much as the FTSE.

Of course, bankers find the practice trying because it requires readjustments of client portfolios. Such shuffling increases costs and eats into performance while also taking up time in workloads which, at the firms focused on sub-£3 million accounts, already include relationship and investment management. And although HNWs will quite properly query who serves whom, a balance must be struck because, according to Barclays, HNWs lose as much as 3 per cent per annum from portfolio adjustments. 

The solution starts with getting bankers to explain what they intend to deliver in military detail at the beginning of relationships so that clients won’t feel aggrieved by the results thereafter. Then it’s a matter of looking through market movements and remembering that bankers tend to underperform indices in the early stages of rallies, such as in 2012, and outperform in downturns, as in 2011, because they understand that private clients don’t like losses and so they manage money with one eye on benchmarks and the other on absolute returns. 

Expectations aside, the third thing bankers complain about is when clients don’t act as part of a team. That manifests itself most obviously when clients look over their shoulders and second-guess decisions. A glittering example is Apple: in September, the technology stock was trading at $700 but since January it is has been below $500. Losing 30 per cent has of course had plenty of HNWs prodding their bankers as to why the stock wasn’t sold, but in doing so they have overlooked the fact that many bankers backed Apple in 2010 when it was $250. 

The shortened sense of perspective is in part attributable to the media, which play up star stocks and make finance dinner-table conversation. But bankers are always keen to remind clients to look through the markets and take a five-year view. As the anonymous CEO says, ‘It always pays to remember that Robert Peston and co cover big falls in the FTSE, but they are half as interested in the rebound the following day.’

Another example of lack of teamwork between bankers and clients is, more subtly, when HNWs don’t recognise good performance or promote it to their friends. No, bankers don’t expect referrals. But they know that, in terms of time and cost, referrals are the most effective form of business development, and therefore they get frustrated when clients feel embarrassed about talking finance to friends.

HNWs will find that referring their bankers is profitable for their own balances as well, because when advisers are freed from business development and allowed to focus on their day jobs their investment results and service levels improve. (If this seems like you’re doing their work for them, perhaps that’s right.) 

HNWs who repeatedly trespass across the three boundaries will find that they aren’t so much dismissed by their bankers as marginalised. If their portfolios are over £200,000, then they’ll be passed to junior bankers, whereas if their accounts are underneath the threshold they will be pushed into a fund-of-funds service. 

In an age when the regulator requires an annual review of everyone’s portfolios and financial circumstances, bankers with 400 clients and 250 working days will find themselves stretched with even the most understanding clients — so it’s crucial to remember that the best business relationships are mutually beneficial and that making sure you fit in well with your banker’s expectations is just as important as double-checking that they fit well with yours.

Alex Pendleton writes for Spear's.

This piece first appeared on Spear's

A London Bank. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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Tory backbench leader Graham Brady: “When we vote to leave the EU, the PM should stay”

As chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady is a king among Tory backbenchers. So what does the ardent Eurosceptic make of David Cameron’s prospects in the EU referendum – and afterwards?

Enter Graham Brady’s office and you are treated to a magnificent panoramic view of the Palace of Westminster and Parliament Square. It is an appropriately grand vantage point for one of the most influential MPs. As the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Brady is an essential barometer of Tory opinion. In recognition of this, he was one of the first guests to No 10 Downing Street in the hours following David Cameron’s general election victory. A prime minister with a majority of 12 – the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974 – must take permanent heed of his backbenchers.

I met Brady, 48, shortly before the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on 10 February. Among Conservative MPs below us in Portcullis House, there remained only one topic of discussion: Europe. Cameron’s draft agreement with the EU has failed to persuade many Eurosceptics that they should vote in favour of membership of the Union when the referendum is likely held on 23 June. Brady, who entered parliament in 1997 as the MP for Altrincham and Sale West, is one of those who intends to campaign for withdrawal.

“There is a very long-term problem that there is a massive difference between what Britain thought it was joining – the European Economic Community – and what it actually was joining,” he said. “There was no appetite or decision to join a political Europe . . . That is something that has always needed to be resolved in some way and I think the more the eurozone, in particular, integrates with the continuing crisis, the more we will have to see massive political and fiscal integration and probably, still, the departure of some of the weaker eurozone countries. As that process goes on, the United Kingdom has got to redefine its relationship in a meaningful way.”

In advance of the European Council summit in Brussels on 18-19 February, he warned that Cameron’s renegotiations had fallen far short. “The reforms that are being sought by the Prime Minister, while all welcome changes, don’t come anywhere near to that fundamental reform of the nature of our relationship with the EU.”

I asked Brady, who was elected to lead the 1922 Committee in 2010, how many of his Conservative colleagues he expected to join him. “It’s very hard to say. I’ve always thought that a clear majority of Conservative members of parliament are deeply unhappy about the shape of the current European Union. And probably a clear majority would have a preference of leaving the EU as it is today. I suspect that roughly 100 will declare that they’re campaigning for Britain to leave. But many more will be very sympathetic to that objective.”

His estimate of 100 is notably higher than the 50 to 70 predicted by Steve Baker, the co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain.

In recent weeks, Eurosceptics have complained as pro-EU cabinet ministers have campaigned for membership while front-bench opponents have remained “gagged”. Brady told me it was “not unreasonable” for Cameron to force them to abide by collective responsibility until the renegotiation had concluded. But, he added: “What is important is that once the deal is done things should be brought to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. I hope there will be a cabinet meeting, if not on the Friday after the Prime Minister returns, then on the Saturday morning, [so] that the cabinet can agree its collective position and also agree that those who don’t share that view are free to say so and free to campaign.”

Some MPs expect as few as five cabinet members to support EU withdrawal (Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and John Whittingdale) although others remain hopeful of persuading Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to join them. “I hope that everybody who is really committed to Britain’s future as a free, independent democracy will realise this is a key decision point,” Brady said.

“There’s no doubt that if Boris Johnson were to campaign for Britain to leave it would bring an energy and buzz to the campaign. Of course that would be welcome, and I hope that Michael Gove will resolve his dilemma in the same direction.”

I asked Brady if he was worried by what some Eurosceptics call “the Farage problem”: that the most prominent opponent of EU membership is also the most polarising. “Nigel Farage is very good at what he does,” he said of the Ukip leader. “He’s a very effective communicator with some audiences, so clearly he has a role in the campaign. Given the salience of the issue for him and his party, it would be unreasonable to expect him not to be prominent in the campaign. But he is a Marmite character and I think this is why it’s so important that there should be a wide range of different voices.”

Brady, who had just returned from a breakfast meeting in the City of London, told me that a number of business people have revealed to him that although their “institutional position is firmly that we should remain in the EU . . . privately their view is completely the opposite”.

Two days before we met, Cameron had been accused of “scaremongering” for warning that “the Jungle”, the refugee camp in Calais, could move to Dover in the event of EU withdrawal. Brady told me that the Prime Minister’s remarks were indeed “inaccurate” and that it was “enormously helpful of the French government to point out that it wasn’t going to happen”.

Were Britain to vote to leave the EU, as polls suggest is possible, many Tory MPs on both sides believe that Cameron would have to resign as Prime Minister. But Brady rejected this suggestion. “No. When we vote to leave the European Union I think it is very important that we have a period of stability. I think it would be hugely valuable to have an experienced team in place to deal with the renegotiation, I think it’s actually very important that the Prime Minister should stay.”

I noted that he referred to “when” Britain leaves the EU, suggesting he was confident of victory. “I’m always confident of victory,” he replied with a smile.

Given Cameron’s decision to pre-resign before the election by vowing to serve only two terms, there will be a Conservative leadership contest before 2020. I asked Brady whether, as some have suggested, the members’ ballot should be widened to include more than two candidates.

“The rules are constructed for each contest by the 1922 executive and agreed with the party board. The only stipulation in the constitution of the party is that we should provide ‘a choice’ to the party members. That has always been construed as a choice of two. I can’t see any reason why parliamentary colleagues would wish to reduce their own influence in the process by putting forward a larger field.”

The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has argued that it is essential there be a female candidate (ideally herself). Brady offered her some advice: “I have very fond recollections of a woman leading the Conservative Party. I hope that if Nicky wants to launch her campaign seriously, she’ll talk to me about how we might promote more grammar schools and selective education as one of the ways that we can stimulate real social mobility in the country again – and she’ll have my support.” It was after the then shadow education secretary, David Willetts, argued in 2007 that grammar schools inhibited social mobility that Brady resigned as shadow minister for Europe.

If there is one stipulation that most Conservative members and MPs will make, it is that there be an anti-EU candidate in the field. I asked Brady whether he would consider standing himself.

“I say to people that I’m very happy with being the returning officer for any leadership contest,” he replied. But the man with a better feel for Conservative backbench opinion than any other ended our conversation with this prediction. “I do think it’s very likely that if we put two candidates forward to the party in the country, at least one of them will have been someone who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle