Alfonso Rivolta on Creating Harmony through Robust Wealth Planning for HNW and UHNW Clients
Alfonso Rivolta has been Global Head of Wealth Planning at EFG since 2017 and leads a team of experts specialising in the complex Wealth Planning needs of international clients. His mission at EFG differs significantly from the efforts of EFG’s Client Relationship Officers, who focus primarily on financial issues with their clients. Wealth planning for Alfonso is all about seeing the big picture in terms of EFG’s clients and their wealth. That includes considering important aspects like their family and personal circumstances, how their wealth is structured, their country of residence, and numerous other important elements that all add up to a deep understanding of their individual needs and ambitions. The mission is, therefore, to help those clients express their family and personal goals, and then help them with their estate, legacy, and succession planning in a structured manner and thereby develop bespoke solutions. Hubbis had the opportunity to speak to Alfonso recently to learn more of his vision of wealth planning, which he explains is often to act as the conductor of the orchestra, something he knows quite a lot about, having trained as a professional violinist and conductor himself in his earlier years.
Alfonso opens the conversation by offering his vision of what EFG can offer through the Wealth Planning team. “We want to provide all our clients with unlimited, holistic advice on their wealth lifecycle,” he reports. “We are solution-oriented; our primary goal is to identify what each one of our clients might need, determine whether we can provide that internally and, if not, identify a trusted external partner to support us. Depending on the jurisdictions involved, the work encompasses legal and tax issues, succession and estate planning, asset protection, marital planning, protection of the vulnerable, and wealth structuring through a vast range of wealth solutions, among other topics. For some areas of our work, especially if we have not an internal solution, we work through expert third party specialists.”
The pandemic has focused clients’ hearts and minds
Alfonso explains that, quite understandably, the normal private banking client at EFG, and indeed elsewhere, had become far more focused on these issues than they were before the pandemic struck.
“This is true of all our regions, even those where traditionally people do not like to talk about these matters,” he reports, “like older clients in the Southern European countries, for instance, or in Latin America, and of course many parts of Asia. This has really become a high priority in the last year or so. As a result, our bankers are very much more focused on these issues as well with our support.”
He explains that local regulations also determine the pace at which clients progress these matters, and that clients differ in terms of the extent to which they want product solutions - trusts, insurance and so forth as example - as well as planning advice.
In Asia, he elucidates, the offering centres on more of advisory process for EFG, and involves coordinating more external specialists, perhaps product specialists but also lawyers, trustees, tax advisors and other trusted parties.
Conductor of the orchestra
“We partner with external parties because we do not have our own life insurance offering, for example,” he explains. “Our role becomes more and more to orchestrate the different providers, but that is incredibly important, as clients want our advice on the best solutions, but also perhaps on the simplest solution they can use for their purposes. For example, they might not always need a trust, they might be able to achieve their goals with a properly drafted Will, which can be a more efficient solution in some cases. This depends partly on the jurisdiction, but also on our freedom to operate in open architecture for the best interest of our clients.”
A case in point…
As an example of a project his team might undertake, he offers a hypothetical case of a UHNW entrepreneur turning 60 who wants to review the structure of his wealth and holdings and to carry out some succession planning – both with regard to his executive role in his company and for the remainder of his assets.
This UHNWI has three grown-up children each of whom resides in different countries, and only one of them is interested in taking over the running of the business activity, as the second child is pursuing other career options and the third child is vulnerable. At least one of the children has a complex marital situation that needs to be considered. Further, the client may be thinking about opening up part of his business to new partners, listing the company on the stock market or even restructuring the entire organisation.
“Well,” says Alfonso, “can you imagine how many questions we would need to ask to gain a full understanding of his situation and needs? How many options would be possible? And how many solutions could be considered in the end? This is a good example of the areas where our Wealth Planning team can help.”
Seeing the big picture, building trust
He explains that some key trends have emerged in the past decade or so, for example avoiding structures unless truly necessary. “They are still extremely useful in specific circumstances but really mostly for UHNWIs and families,” he reports. “We do have our wealth solutions operation within EFG, which covers trust and the private investment fund business, which provides an excellent platform for clients in need of such solutions. However, wealth planning is more on identifying viable options, and the mission we have is not to be product sellers, but to be completely independent and embrace completely open architecture to offer the optimal concepts and solutions for clients. This means if we meet a client who has a succession planning or perhaps a relocation need, or an asset protection need, first of all, we need to do a proper analysis. We analyse, sometimes we recommend, but we have no agenda to push anything ourselves, so we are ideally positioned to win the trust of the clients.”
Each client is different, each jurisdiction differs
He explains that wealth planning covers the main markets in which EFG operates, but the specifics of what they can offer does vary according to different jurisdictions and their regulations. He explains that in some markets, for example some of the Latin American, Eastern European and Asian countries, the role is more of the ‘orchestration’ he mentioned earlier, offering a deep dive analysis jointly with the client and their external advisors, with EFG sometimes helping identify the right such third party experts. “
There are a few countries, for example Switzerland, the UK and a few other major markets where actually we do provide the tailored advisory on succession or pension planning, or on efficient financial planning, but not for Asia,” he clarifies.
Scrutinising existing plans, mobility, and working with the nextgens
As to key requirements from clients nowadays, he points to three key topics. The first is the review of existing structures which, for a host of reasons, including regulation first and foremost, might no longer be needed, or might cost too much, or might be out of date with the family structure, in short that may no longer be fit for purpose. The second key trend is a keener interest in relocation, for lifestyle, for more appealing tax and legal environments, or for family or other reasons.
The third key trend is the rising participation in family wealth of the next generations. “This is a real positive,” Alfonso reports. “Sometimes the wealth planning is driven entirely by the first generation, as they want to decide everything, and honestly that remains the most traditional, and probably still the most frequent situation today,” he explains. But he reports there is an increasing trend, perhaps since the pandemic hit as well, for the younger generations to be more deeply considered or perhaps involved.
“This trend towards great inclusion is really positive,” he comments, “and can evidently prevent a lot of disputes or problems if you can involve the second generation earlier on in the planning process.”
In Switzerland, for example, he explains that the legal environment is conducive to a heightened involvement of the nextgens, including even how they plan to manage family wealth later on, how they want to split different kinds of assets among family members, and in other key areas.
Filtering the best-in-class for clients
As to the third-party advisors and professionals with which EFG works today, he explains that the decision making for the filtering of those parties has definitely become more formalised, structured and tighter as a general trend.
“We need to have successfully worked with them, they need to have the right credentials and ratings, for example as law firms, and we need to offer clients a choice, not a single name, so as to ensure there is transparency, and avoid potential conflicts of interest,” he explains. “The result is that, frankly, we are these days concentrating more on the big names or on local leaders in their specialization field. We also prefer a more global capability for clients and make sure we are partnering clients with the highest quality and more independent advisors and experts.”
Asia – the door opens wider
He is wary of generalising about Asia, as it is so vast and diverse, but he does report that the conversations around wealth planning are somewhat easier to broach today than before, and people are in general more proactive in asking for advice on specific solutions, perhaps that one of their friends might have taken up, or that they have researched themselves.
“The discussions flow more easily today in general in Asia,” he comments, “and the starting points open more doors to easier conversations. They like to see the alternatives available, but they also like our views on the available solutions, whereas European clients tend to prefer the whole set of alternatives and then take their time to reach their conclusions.”
He also remarks that the greater numbers of younger Asian uber-wealthy than in Europe opens the door to more awareness of and engagement by those nextgens in the whole wealth planning protocol.
Asia - transitioning towards a more European model?
He observes that there is in Asia a generally improving awareness of the need for wealth protection and retention rather than simply wealth creation. “There used to be a total focus on creating the wealth and a more distinct distrust of passing assets to trustees or bankers to manage for the future,” he observes. “But today, there is a rising awareness that being an entrepreneur in a certain business does not mean you will be good at financial investments or preserving wealth, and for those objectives, you need trusted advisors. The second and younger generations recognise this more clearly than the founders, so the outlook for the wealth planning experts, for example, us at EFG, is generally rather positive.”
Insurance solutions and their role in legacy planning
Alfonso also comments on the relevance of life insurance solutions. While there are plenty of different options, Asia appears to be currently seeing considerable demand for Universal Life Insurance (ULI) and Whole of Life insurance (WoL) solutions, whilst in Europe, demand centres more on PPLI or unit-linked insurance solutions.
“It will be interesting to see how demand evolves,” he comments. “There is no doubt that life solutions work well especially when properly structured and organised.”
Take professional advice
On ULI, Alfonso remarks, “for me the most important element is that all possible wealth solutions are considered only after a proper analysis of the family and wealth situation. There should never be a discussion about a given product or solution without a deep analysis of the whole client’s situation, goals, and big picture”.
Alfonso’s first mission – and this is a goal that the group set some years ago - to make each and every possible solution that EFG offers available across different regions, being “ready-to-go” without requiring any further adaptations, i.e., already adapted in each region based on the local regulatory requirements. “This is a key priority,” he explains, “as it means we will be able to tell our bankers and our clients, regardless of where the clients are banking with us, and across their different countries of residence, or maybe the country of residence of family members, EFG will be able to provide them with all the best content and solutions everywhere. We take care of all the regulatory nuances, but for servicing our clients, our keywords are content and simplicity.”
The second priority, which he says is also consistent with the bank's stated intentions, is to enhance our UHNW client servicing and offering also in the wealth planning area. “EFG created a dedicated Top Deal team,” he says, “and within that, wealth planning is a relevant stakeholder, so in addition to looking after our general clients, we will also concentrate on more tailored advisory services for the wealthiest clients across the regions so to provide superior client service and experience to our key clients.”
Adding value to EFG’s private banking proposition
His final comment is on the role of his team within EFG. “I am convinced that in Wealth Planning, we can add value to any long-term private banking relationship, especially in the case of our most important clients. Market trends in many countries suggest that demand for such services is likely to continue growing. Against this backdrop, we want to expand our coverage not only geographically but also in terms of the range of services we offer to clients in certain regions. Increasing client penetration and trust are the greatest source of opportunities for our business and for the bank.”
Getting Personal with Alfonso Rivolta
Before assuming his current role, Alfonso held a variety of roles within Wealth Planning at EFG, as well as serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Group’s Italian fiduciary company in Milan. Prior to that, he worked for UBS in the area of Wealth Planning where he assisted top-tier global family office clients. Alfonso is a member of the Advisory Board on Tax Planning at the SBA’s Studies Centre in Vezia, Switzerland, and Trust and Estate Practitioner at the Swiss STEP branch. He also lectures on international taxation, estate and Wealth Planning at renowned universities and has published several articles on international tax and wealth planning matters.
Alfonso hails originally from Milan. He holds an M.Sc. in Law and Business Administration and an LL.M. in Tax Law from Bocconi University, Milan, and an Adv. LL.M in International Tax Law from Leiden University in the Netherlands, among other qualifications.
His early career was in law in Italy, focussing on international corporate tax matters, and during those five years he also spent the latter two years working to help HNWIs in their tax affairs. “That was back in roughly 2008,” he recalls, “and this was fairly new for everyone in Italy. When I then went to UBS in Switzerland to work in their wealth planning department, my legal colleagues before I left asked me what I meant by wealth planning, as it was not a well-known concept then.”
While at UBS in Switzerland, he worked as a wealth planner for Italian clients, later becoming team leader, and in 2015, he joined BSI, which was later to be bought by EFG. “I then became deeply involved in the integration of BSI within EFG,” he reports. “The two banks had different models of wealth planning, so the choice was to merge the two different teams with different priorities and different people, and we emerged with more of the Swiss model, and I have been leading the team ever since the 2017 integration was completed.”
Alfonso is married and has two young children of five and three years old. In spare time he still enjoys music, and indeed almost took that route as a career, as he is also a professionally trained orchestra conductor and violinist. “Music remains a passion of mine and I play both violin and piano, when possible,” he says. “And another love is sports or classic cars, and if I were to be able to buy any car I wished for, then it would be the beautiful Ferrari F40. Just dreaming…”
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