14 July, 2015
Private, efficient and personal
It has been a pure pleasure to talk with Head of Societe Generale Private Banking during his stay in Split, paying a promised visit to his team that is offering the expertise of the best private bank in Europe to Croatian clients
The SG Group is the biggest global financial group present on the Croatian market, and, with its 151 year history, the oldest as well. As for Societe Generale Private Banking, it has 118 billion euros in assets under management worldwide, having created a strong network across key European market, and it has been present in Croatia since 2010, serving clients through partnerships with Societe Generale group’s local retail banking network. Their international private banking network employs over 2.500 staff, and has more than 500 specialists in wealth planning, fiduciary services and investment solutions, on top of more than 600 private bankers. This year saw the elite of Societe Generale Private Banking in Split, where we had a chance to speak with Mr.Jean-Francois Mazaud, the head of one of the best private banking organizations of today. Mr.Mazaud is not only at the top of his team, which is winning awards as the best private bank in Europe, but he is also a very successful individual who won the award as ‘Outstanding Global Private Banker’ from Private Banker International magazine in 2014.
Societe Generale Group is recognized globally as a bank with a long tradition of private banking, with innovative products and first-rate wealth management services. What differentiates SG PB’s service for clients from others?
We are at the heart of Societe Generale group and aim to be the relationship private bank of reference for our clients. We focus on building a long-term relationship with them, getting to understand their individual needs and projects. We have clients of about 100 nationalities. They are often entrepreneurs: some are first-generation businessmen, others come from traditional business families, and their attitude to wealth management is never the same, each one having specific wishes and preferences. This is where our strength lies – offering our clients personalized attention, with advisory placed firmly at the forefront and no product-push mindset.
Can you describe your operation in Croatia?
In Croatia we have teamed up with Societe Generale group’s flagship, Splitska banka – a very strong and famous bank with its own tradition. Splitska banka has an important customer base made up of entrepreneurs who are themselves wealthy people. The joint approach with Splitska Banka enables us to bring these clients the best of private banking expertise and connectivity with the wider Societe Generale group while capturing the proximity and depth of relationships established by Splitska Banka over the decades.
What, specifically, do you bring them?
We bring a team of dedicated private bankers operating from Zagreb, where Eric de Marchi, Head of Private Banking is based, with Katica Sedlo the private banker in charge of the office there, and from Split, where the team is led by Tamara Pletikosić, Deputy Head of Private Banking. These teams diagnose, recommend the right solutions and show personal attention to each and every client, establishing relationships for the long-term. Alongside our private bankers, we also bring our investment advisers, who are experts in the selection of products and solutions and who can assist the private bankers in their dialogue with clients. Digging a little bit deeper into the differentiating solutions we offer in Croatia, we quickly started developing structured products for which Societe Generale Private Banking is recognized around the world, but which were not very common here. These products usually offer a higher yield in exchange for exposure on different kinds of assets with optionality.
After eight months are you satisfied with reaction of the market and domestic clients?
Yes! As always, timing proved to be crucial, and with falling interest rates greatly disrupting usual market practices, introducing new services proved to be timely. Clients reacted positively, especially to the fact that through private banking they have access to a full range of solutions and connections to the Group. Our Newsletter also received a warm welcome, notably among investors with direct exposure to international markets.
You said that private banking has completely different dynamics?
The development cycle is not short in this industry. You have to think medium- or long-term due to a series of specificities – multiple regulations, a variety of client bases, legacy systems, as well as the conservative behaviour of the ecosystem. When I joined private banking from investment banking three years ago, I set out a plan and have been carefully following it ever since. The ups and downs of markets and the quarterly results look-back exercises have not derailed us from our trajectory. I found out that this is the best way to make people change and move the business forward – set a vision, allow time to make the changes and carefully check the results at proper intervals. What I am saying about the conduct of our business is not very different from the behaviour of our clients vis a vis their own wealth!
What was your plan three years ago?
I had six goals. The first one was to gain a leading position in France, our domestic market. This is done. With more than EUR 50bn of assets under management for clients, we are now the leading bank in the country. The second goal was to deploy further our private bank in Western Europe, in the UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco and in Belgium. The plan’s objective was to recruit 120 bankers abroad and to launch a series of new services. This was done. The third goal was to deploy private banking throughout Societe Generale’s international retail network. Typically, this meant opening new private banks where the Group had retail banks: we opened in Morocco and Croatia and extended our presence in the Czech Republic. Other projects may surface in the months to come. The fourth goal was to optimize our international set-up. My belief was that we could not be a private bank for everybody, everywhere, and that it was better to be focused in the places where we are strong and the brand is recognized. We didn’t have this footprint in Asia, where we were big, but not big enough. We therefore decided to sell. The fifth goal was related to the synergies with the rest of Societe Generale group, which I wanted to expand. Societe Generale is a great universal bank, with 35 million customers around the globe and close to 150.000 employees. I was convinced that our private banking clients would want to be able to be connected to this network if they wished to. My sixth goal was related to IT and digitalization, where we have embarked on an 80 million euros investment program and which is well on track.
You are a big fan of IT?
IT is key in private banking to deliver a quality service and to ensure proper execution. This is also of upmost importance to control our risks and to protect confidentiality. I made it one of our strategic goals. It is also pivotal to facilitate and encourage digital services to take off. Not that I think that digital services will replace the physical link with our clients going forward, but I believe that a high level of complementarity is going to be critical – with IT solutions being the enabler. To facilitate the innovation process in digitalization, I have set up a dedicated digital team whose mission is to run a series of experiments with bankers and clients across our network. The ambition is to scale these up if they prove to be meaningful for our clients.
So you are also strong believer in personal relations with clients?
I believe in a bank which delivers a superior service with an intimate understanding of customers’ needs and a high level of expertise. In addition, all this can as well be done with an emotional input.
Societe Generale Private Banking is also well-known for the services it can provide to clients who own or plan to buy a yacht. Can you explain these?
In 2010, Societe Generale Private Banking in Monaco developed a financing solution dedicated to existing or future owners of motor megayachts over 40 meters. When we look at a financing enquiry, we stipulate that the vessel must be built by the world finest shipyards and that it can be under construction, brand new or second-hand, but not more than 10 years old. We propose multi-currency solutions with fixed or floating interest rates and amortizing loans only – there is no leasing structure. Since our core activity is private banking, our exclusive operations allow us to focus on the ability of the owner to develop a long term relationship with us. We work closely with the best professionals in the industry (yacht designers & builders, lawyers, etc) in order to meet our clients’ specific needs and maintain our standards at the highest possible level.
From the sea to the mountains, are you a passionate skier?
Yes, I love skiing and go quite frequently in the Alps; it is part of my DNA. I like the challenge of climbing too. The truth is that I find some similarity with the job I do. It is about having a goal, carefully understanding the elements and calculating your risks, giving yourself the means to get where you want to go, and being savvy with yourself as well. On top of the sheer fun I get out of this sport, there is the simple human emotion of exploring unspoiled territory.