The 27-year-old woman teaching bankers how to shake hands
Lisa Tyshchenko is a 27-year-old woman with an elite qualification that endows her with insights into how to get ahead in financial services. It’s not an MBA. It’s not even a level 1 CFA® exam pass. It’s an etiquette course from an elite Swiss finishing school.
This summer, Tyshchenko spent six weeks at Institut Villa Pierrefeu (I.V.P.) in Glion, a small village about Montreux, where she was schooled in the art of small talk, business meetings, formal meals, dress codes, deportment, hostessing and subtle differences between cultures. She’s spent her time since disseminating the arcane wisdom she gathered there among current and aspiring bankers, for a fee.
“In the past, finishing school was all about teaching manners and how to be a housewife,” says Tyshchenko. “A lot of schools died for that reason, but this is a complete diploma in etiquette for international business. “
Featured in the New Yorker in 2018, Institut Villa Pierrefeu claims to be “the last Swiss finishing school.” Alumni include Princess Diana and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Students are typically women, although some courses (the "European Art of Dining") are receptive to men. As well imparting revelations like, 'hired help might be illiterate, so one should be certain to instruct staff verbally rather than with a printed schedule,' the New Yorker discerned the school's function to be coaching people not in the art of making money but in 'the gestures of having inherited it.'
It’s the resulting demeanor that Tyshchenko suggests makes such a difference in banking interviews and in banking jobs. “I am teaching my clients how to impress people,” she says. “How to shake hands, how to introduce yourself, how to talk to the head of the desk, how to make small talk without seeming awkward, how to introduce people…”
For the untutored, Tyshchenko says such things can be a minefield of failed comportment and incorrect signals. Women tend to shake hands too limply; men too strongly; people wearing rings inadvertently injure their shaking partner and are off to a bad start. Knowing these things will set you apart: “People achieve the confidence to behave appropriately in any situation.”
Tyshchenko herself can’t claim to have directly implemented her observations in banking, but she worked in the industry prior to completing the course. She spent a year on Deutsche Bank’s wealth management program in 2020, followed by seven months as a private banker in Geneva. She founded her coaching company last September, five months after leaving CIM Banque.
Understanding etiquette makes all the differences in banking interviews, says Tyshchenko. It helps in initial screening interviews; it helps in assessment centres. Some of her suggestions sound like straightforward body language (don't cross your arms or legs). Some sound slightly sexist (women should lightly clasp their hands during interviews, men should rest their hands on the arms of the chair). But Tyshchenko says it works and that her clients can testify to its effectiveness: "They say that it's about much more than an interview and technical tips; it's lessons in life."
Of course, people with a passion for international etiquette could always attend I.V.P. themselves, but the course doesn't come cheap. Tyshchenko says the tuition alone cost her $25k, and that living expenses were another $5k on top of that. Some of the attendees lived in hotels and spent $60k-$70k. That makes a short spell at I.V.P. similar in price to a Masters in Finance qualification. But everyone has a Masters in Finance these days. Not everyone knows how to exude "polish" and to execute the perfect handshake.
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