Interviews – Financial – Tim Pethybridge

What is your current title?
Client group head, which is a title unique to Coutts. What it really means is that I run one of the client-facing divisions within the bank. Coutts has segmented its client base, so rather than a private banker dealing with a property owner in the morning, the chairman of a public company for lunch and a lawyer in the afternoon, the bankers are focused on an individual lifestyle.

What are the different groups?
We have nine client groups: international, executives, entrepreneurs, retirement, professionals, acquired wealth (e.g. through divorce or the lottery – very important!), sports and entertainment, inpatriates and landowners. We’re very much more aware of the environment in which the client works and lives and the kind of pressures under which he operates.

Do you miss the diversity?
No, I don’t think so. Within the executives’ group, which is what I run, there’s a lot of diversity. Each banker has a portfolio, not just of City executives, but also industry executives.

What’s your day-to-day role?
The area I represent is relationship management. We get involved with every aspect of the bank’s relations with the client, but we don’t get actually manage the money. Managing money is a full-time business and that is done by the investment management department. We’re front of house, we make sure that the client is happy with the service; that they’re getting what they want; if they do need an expert, that we can access the expert and introduce them.

How closely do you work with your clients?
It varies a lot. Even some executives who might be very clever will profess themselves completely at sea when it comes to financial services. So we have people like that as well as those who have been incredibly successful in the City and know a great deal more probably than maybe we can even tell them, but nonetheless need our service. When you’re dealing with an individual’s money you inevitably have a very very close relationship. You have a relationship of trust so inevitably it’s a very confidential and private relationship.

How do you win your clients?
The best way to find any client in private banking is through reputation, when one client recommends you to another possible client. That’s how we get a lot of our clients. It’s very nice, people do come to us, and that’s marvellous. But at the same time we’re very keen on promoting the Coutts brand and going out and talking to people and really introducing the idea that Coutts now is a very different place to what it was two or three years ago.

Does it involve lots of wining and dining?
(Laughs) It involves a certain amount, there’s no doubt about it. It is in some ways quite glamorous. You meet some incredibly interesting people – and some very challenging people it has to be said. If you’re sitting across the table from a chief executive of a large public company you need to be very sharp.

What makes a good private banker?
They’re going to enjoy working amongst people. And they’re going to be curious about what these people do, what their priorities are. The technical stuff you can develop, but actually the key, instinctive things are good interpersonal skills and good listening skills. You’ve got to be aware, you’ve got to respond quickly to your client, that’s very important.

Do you need a banking background in order to move into private banking?
Absolutely not. People coming from financial services will obviously have a feel for financial markets, and having a feel for financial markets is an important part of private banking. But it’s also fair to say if you’ve got a natural curiosity, you can come from outside the field and develop that.

How do see the future of private banking?
I think there’s inevitably going to be a period of expansion followed by a period of consolidation. I think up till now a career in financial services has not necessarily included private banking as an attractive option. It’s always been investment banking and corporate finance that’s been the golden choice. But with the growth in private banking it is becoming an increasingly important area of investment.

How long have you been at Coutts?
I’ve been at Coutts since last January. I’m relatively new because I’m an investment banker by trade. After twenty years in investment banking the challenge that Coutts presented was a particularly interesting one. There we were with an absolutely wonderful brand name, a fantastic client list and in need of some new thinking and some energy.

Is the culture at Coutts is very different from the culture at other banks?
Yes, it is. But it’s not somewhere where people sit in stuffed couches and have a good sleep after lunch. This is a vibrant, innovative sort of environment where we’re conscious of our competition and always looking at ways in which we can beat them. It still has the history and the old-school image, but it is also capable of inter-acting with the modern world. It is possible for our people to dress down, for example. It’s not right for a private banker going along to see a dotcom millionaire to turn up looking as if they’ve just gone to a garden party or something. They should turn up looking a bit like the individual who they’re going to meet and make the individual feel comfortable with them.

Did you always know you wanted to be a banker?
No, not at all. I was at Oxford University and I hadn’t really got a clue what I wanted to do when I left. I spent the early part of my career for a very traditional stockbroker in the City, and I then went on to specialising in Far Eastern emerging markets. I travelled round the world extensively for about twenty years working for Deutsche Bank and Salomon Brothers.

What was it that you particularly enjoyed about investment banking?
I enjoyed the travelling. There was a certain dynamism about investment banking, in a sense that everything was a deal and emotionally you went all the way up and then you went all the way down. At the same time there wasn’t a lot of time to develop good relationships with your clients. You tended to come and go, seek the next deal. It was absolutely fascinating, although the industry changes once every six months so you have to have a head for change to go into it.

Is now a good time for graduates to go into private banking?
I think that private banking is a growth market. There are more and more so-called high net worth individuals being created all the time. There are more people wanting more sophisticated financial advice. Coutts has rapidly and dramatically expanded our graduate recruitment process, and now has a really sophisticated graduate induction programme, which runs over about two years before someone’s actually given a portfolio and told, ‘Right, you are now a private banker.’

That doesn’t sound like enough time!
You’d be surprised, there’s quite a lot that can be taught to someone in two years. And you’re not given huge numbers of clients to deal with straightaway. The training programme is quite intense and gives you all the technical skills you need. And through working with the individual teams you can be given the social skills and the personal skills that you need.

Do applicants need to know about the banking profession first?
Having some awareness about some of the issues in the banking profession is always going to be very helpful. It would be general good practice to read up a couple of brief synopses on private banking and some of the issues around it. And if you just go to the Financial Times and ask for the most recent surveys on private banking I’m sure that you would come away with quite enough knowledge. It helps if you know a certain amount about the organisation you’re going into, that’s always a good trick.

What about people who come into banking later?
There are different requirements and challenges for people who come in at a slightly later stage, people like myself. I’ve got a lot of knowledge about investment but on the other hand I knew very little about credit, so I’m having to learn about that.

What are promotion prospects like?
It’s possible to go up the ranks reasonably fast. It’s part of the Royal Bank of Scotland, so there are plenty of opportunities. And we also have businesses overseas so there are opportunities to have some international experience as well.

Is there anything that you find difficult or frustrating about the job?
All jobs in financial services have their ups and downs. Sometimes you get a little bogged down in detail, but again there’s enough people around to dig you out of it. And, as in all service businesses, things can go wrong. But it’s not a business where there are an awful lot of obvious negatives, as long as you’re enjoying it in the first place.

What about difficult clients?
Everybody has a few of those. But I think for difficult I would read demanding. And at our level we would expect all our clients to be demanding and challenging. So we want people who are prepared to be robust and challenging in their own right because clients demand a lot. There’s no doubt, it’s not a profession for the faint-hearted.

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