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.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories