Swiss private bankingHave you ever imagined what a private bank could do if it had a concierge willing to provide a unique service experience to a wealthy customer? Or a private bank investing in corporate social responsibility initiatives that appeal to Millennials? What about a private bank that concerns itself with the minutest detail of the customer experience?

The hospitality industry is known for being customer-focused and for being able to adjust to customers’ wants and needs. Travelling around the globe, getting to know hotels of all kinds, dining at different restaurants are all opportunities to stimulate unique sensory experiences among customers. Surprisingly, these traits are less common in other service industries, where the customer should also be a priority.

As a faculty member at a world-class hospitality management school and after having gained professional experience in other service industries, I ask myself if there is a way to translate the strengths of the hospitality industry to other service-oriented fields. The Swiss private banking industry has, for example, started to look in this direction and realized the relevance of incorporating a more hospitality-focused approach to the way they do business. For instance, Rothschild’s Swiss private bank has recently appointed Laurent Gagnebin, whose roots are the hospitality world, as CEO. As a graduate of Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), Gagnebin is convinced that his education and experience in hospitality will help Rothschild Bank develop a client-journey focus, which is essential in private banking and commonplace in hotels. “It is not just the client adviser. It is about the premises, the flowers, the branded items you receive as a guest […] It is all these touch points”, said Gagnebin in an interview with the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. 

In the spirit of exploring how the best of the hospitality industry could spill over to the Swiss private banking industry, two industry experts – Valerie Moloney and Sherif Mamdouh – joined my undergraduate Corporate Strategy class to discuss with senior students the challenges facing the industry. Students were exposed to first-hand testimony and relevant data portraying how private banking has evolved in Switzerland for the past ten years. The message was clear: the Swiss private banking industry has dramatically lost appeal over the last decade and is in need of exploring novel business strategies. Once the students were provided with a broad overview of the industry, we conducted a contest among students. Eight groups of five students worked on the task during the two-hour class. Students were asked to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the industry and propose value drivers from the hospitality industry that could become opportunities for private banking in Switzerland. These young experts were thrilled by the idea of translating what they believe is at the heart of the hospitality world into Private Banking – an industry that, like hospitality, is also important to Swiss society. Students were asked to generate two scenarios indicating how the introduction of hospitality value drivers in Swiss private banking could unfold over time. Then, they gave a brief presentation of their analysis, along with key recommendations. While it was not easy to choose one group of winners (the majority of the recommendations went well beyond our expectations), we selected the customer-centric recommendation made by Marlene Baumann, Natalia Edwards, Joe Muller, and Soizic Vernet as the most insightful one.  

Customized service and technology

Most students (including those who did not win) recognized that private banks urgently need to be able to offer a true tailored customer experience. Students’ recommendations included: having a concierge who gets to know the customer and foresees her needs, developing an online presence with face-to-face personalized service, and increasing unique knowledge about customers. Moreover, to develop brand loyalty among wealthy Millennials, private banks should develop the means to engage in corporate social responsibility initiatives while offering flexible points of contact. The winning group acknowledged the fact that a personalized service experience at a private bank in Switzerland can be better customized by recognizing that customers are multi-faceted: some may be hoping for a personalized relationship with their asset manager while others seek a flexible and autonomous experience through technological services. For example, a young wealthy customer may value time, and autonomy, and therefore favor the online and technological services offered by the bank. However, she can also enjoy dedicated human interaction on specific occasions and a “concierge-like” type of service.  

Students also suggested that customers can alternate between these two modes – hi-tech vs hi-touch – by indicating their preferred service type via a slide-bar on the web interface. Through the slide-bar customers would have the opportunity to slide the cursor to the right if they want technology to support their transactions, or to the left to meet in person with their asset manager. This scenario bolsters the hospitality idea of the concierge who takes care of all needs the customer may have. In this way, the customer would be able to set meetings up with their asset manager or simply execute their transactions online.

While putting these recommendations in practice might present operational and structural challenges for the private banking industry, hospitality students proved creative, innovative, and flexible in applying their knowledge to the Swiss private banking industry. As outsiders to private banking, we all agreed that there is room to apply features of hospitality to the private banking industry in Switzerland.

By Margarita Cruz

Margarita CruzDr. Margarita Cruz is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. In her research, Margarita studies the role of authenticity in influencing entrepreneurial attempts such as entry of new organizations and new product introduction. In the classroom, Margarita likes to bring state-of-the-art trends and practices about the entrepreneurial and strategic scene in the hospitality and F&B industries. She is passionate about breweries, restaurants, and luxury hotels.



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