Career paths in wealth management

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‘Private banker’ is typically a generic term – you probably won’t have it on your business card. If you start your wealth management career as a graduate hire you will likely boast the job title of ‘assistant relationship manger’ (or similar) and the rank of analyst and then associate. You’ll step up to relationship manager only if you secure your own set of clients. ‘Client advisor’ is a common alternative title to relationship manager.

In an effort to convince clients that their RM comes with sufficient senior status, mid-level rankings in private banking can sound more impressive than those in other parts of the finance sector. When promoted from associate, you could end up being an ‘associate director’ rather than a VP. Most private banks stick to the traditional ‘director’ and ‘MD’ for their senior staff.

Despite talent shortages within wealth management, getting a job straight from university is often difficult – only the larger private offer graduate traineeships (which make you an assistant RM). If you miss out on a traineeship, your best option for breaking into private banking in the future is to start your career as an RM in the mass-affluent retail-banking sector – managing sub-$1m wealth – and to grow your clients’ assets until they hit the high net worth (HNW) mark of $1m+.

Despite talent shortages within wealth management, getting a job straight from university is often difficult

In recent years a few mid-level investment bankers have moved into private banking, as banks seek to tap their links to wealthy company executives who could potentially become private clients. The days of golf pros and high-end hairdressers being hired as RMs because of their access to rich people belong in the pre-financial-crisis past, however.

If you go down the more traditional route and start your career as an assistant RM, be warned: some assistants stay in the role for years – even for their whole careers.

To then become a full-fledged RM, you must show that you have the right personality for an advisory position and you can handle day-to-day tasks without constant supervision, says Jullie Kan, managing director and vice chairman Southeast Asia, private banking Asia Pacific, at Credit Suisse. You must also be “agile and savvy in reading clients’ needs” and “support the RM in a seamless way,” she adds. “Show a strong initiative to learn, go beyond the scope of a job description and do more for the RM and the client.”

If you’re made an RM, your first clients will probably be handed to you. For example, a more senior member of your team may pass on clients because they are retiring or refocusing on ultra-high-net-worth ($5m+ in investable assets) clients, leaving the less wealthy ones to you.

“Making the transition from support to adviser is very challenging as you suddenly become the individual accountable for the relationship, for managing the clients’ wealth and helping them achieve their financial goals,” says Dylan Williams, managing director, head of England and Wales at Coutts. “The biggest challenge as you progress is building your network both from a client and professional-contacts perspective. Your network is what provides your sustainability and will open up opportunities to you throughout your career,” he adds.

'Your network is what provides your sustainability and will open up opportunities to you throughout your career'

As a junior RM, it’s also vital to have a good mentor within your firm to “guide and mould you into a private banking mindset and personality,” says Kan. “A strong private banker would be able to take on more complex and major clients.” Your clients are also your trump card if you want to progress your career by moving banks – a new employer will want you to bring a high proportion of your clients’ assets to them.

As you rise up the ranks you may eventually assume the role of desk head, leading a team of about eight to 12 RMs depending on the size of your bank. “They play a bigger role in cultivating relationships with existing clients to ensure lasting partnerships,” says Raymond Ang, managing director, regional market manager Singapore, at UBS Wealth Management. “This includes managing client sentiments and incorporating it into the strategies and product recommendations. Desk heads also assume business development responsibilities whereby they prospect, acquire and manage new clients.”

As one of the faster growing parts of the finance sector, wealth management typically has more people clamouring to get into it than out of it. But if you are looking for an exit, many private bankers end up establishing or working in ‘family offices’, which manage wealth and provide estate-planning and other services to one or several very rich families.

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