Brett King: Social Media for the Private Bankers

Brett King,2008_Brett King_Photo.jpg our sought-after banking expert and speaker, and founder of the Movenbank thinks that when the High Net Worth, esp those from the younger generation embraces social media, the private bankers should do so too.

Below is the interview of Brett at Today Online:

Private banking has long been the preserve of discreet bankers whose clients are picked up in private limousines for insightful discussions in elegant oak-panelled conference rooms, followed by a specially prepared meal in a private dining room. The personalised services and luxurious ambience exude an aura of privilege and privacy.

In a world where more people than ever are online and using social media, however, private bankers are starting to consider shifting from just meeting their high net worth (HNW) clients in these impressive offices towards using social media like Facebook to maintain client relationships.

And “banker’s hours” are set to take on an entirely new meaning when private bankers start using Skype, where their clients can check 24/7 to see whether they’re ready to talk.

Much as private bankers who have long been used to meeting their clients in person may resist it, meeting clients online is becoming more critical than they might expect. As banking adviser Brett King said: “Successful business people in the HNW individuals category were the first to get Blackberries, the first to get wireless broadband modems so they could work on their laptop in the limo from the airport to the office. So right now, clients of private banks are asking – why can I login and do this day-to-day stuff through HSBC, Barclays or Bank of America, but I can’t through my private bank?”

The recent PWC Asia Pacific Private Banking Survey 2011 shows just how fast this shift towards online relationships and 24/7 availability is likely to happen. PWC found that over 30 per cent of private bankers expect to interact with clients on social media within two years and nearly 50 per cent expect to use more mobile technologies.

While some very affluent individuals may stay offline to protect their privacy, the use of social media among the wealthy is already higher than one might expect and more than half may be on Facebook. While information about Singapore is limited, director of research firm RFi Alan Shields said their research in Australia showed that “a quarter of HNW clients are on LinkedIn, 70 per cent are on Facebook and 24 per cent are using Twitter”.

Perhaps even more importantly, children who will inherit from their HNW parents are even more active social media users and would likely expect their bankers to be available on social media too. As CapGemini said in its World Wealth Report, many younger HNW individuals “favour predominantly real-time digital media for communications”.

While the move towards social media by those circumspect private bankers may seem more like a trickle than a torrent so far, some banks have gotten the message and are already connecting with their clients in new ways.

Centuries-old British private banking firm Coutts, for example, says it is available on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare, and staff recently responded to a Twitter message from a client within minutes.

Citi’s private banking unit says it is setting up a social networking site exclusively for the children of its super-rich clients, and Citi vice-president Peter Gaudry told Dow Jones that it will build “an online tribe without acting like you’re building one”.

So far, private banks’ public social media sites are fairly mundane. Go to Coutts on Twitter, for example, and you’ll see tweets like “we hope you had a successful evening”. UBS Private Bank’s site says that “no information has been provided … yet” on its Facebook page. Some Singapore private banks are not yet on Twitter, Facebook or other social media at all.

Along with very visible tweets, banks seem more likely initially to set up internal social networking sites like Citi’s for clients to connect with their relationship manager and their peers. Indeed, the head of one regional bank said they are already building an internal site, though it is not live yet and it is more for affluent rather than private banking clients at first.

Other private bankers remain sceptical that their business will ever move to social media, and private bankers with a long tradition of meeting their clients in person seem to find it difficult to make this switch. Indeed, one said that Facebook and Twitter are “platforms where people like to post random bursts of ideas – simply not possible if you’re representing a bank”. It’s no wonder, then, that My Private Banking recently found that “the majority of leading banks and wealth managers have failed to discover the potential of social media and act on it”.

Realistically, though, as PWC’s Mark Jansen said, private banks “have to deal with the challenge of how to be on Facebook when their clients are on Facebook”. Even as some private bankers and even industry experts scoff at the concept of maintaining client relationships on social media, the rich are going ahead and using Facebook or Twitter anyway.

Along with superb banking knowledge, etiquette and discretion, then, private bankers may well need to add Facebook and Skype expertise to the list of critical skills they need to succeed.

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