Credit Suisse’s Urs Lichtenberger on Digital Innovation, the Hybrid Model and Scalability
Urs Lichtenberger is Managing Director and Head of Client & Front Office Platform, Asia Pacific, based in Singapore, from where he oversees the development and implementation of the bank’s external and internal platforms, including digital client offerings, Relationship Manager digital dashboards, Client Onboarding, as well as AML and Control related tools relevant for the bank in Asia Pacific. He joined the bank in 2011 and has held various management roles since. He has more than 16 years of experience in successfully leading large transformational projects from strategy to execution and setting up impactful change management capabilities within the financial industry across Asia and Europe. Urs was instrumental in the successful rehaul and digitalisation of the bank’s award-winning digital private banking platform, while introducing a new change management organisation protocol to ensure the business is fully equipped to leverage the technological tools. Based on our past interviews with Urs and his most recent comments as an expert panellist at our September 2 webinar focusing on ‘Empowering the RM’, we know that he is committed to continuing digital transformation. We know that he is also a firm believer in the ‘hybrid’ approach, with the relationship managers continuing in their central role in client engagement and the delivery of relevant and timely advice and solutions. Credit Suisse was such an early and prime mover in digital transformation in wealth management, and Urs is justifiably proud of how that has helped the bank boost client engagement in recent years and allowed the bank to adapt seamlessly and at speed to the exigencies of the pandemic. Very importantly, the bank is also ideally positioned to work with the next generations of private clients who hold many keys to the future and who are increasingly powerful proponents not only of digital connectivity but also of sustainability. We have summarised some of his very valuable insights from September 2 in this short report.
The journey began back in 2013
Urs told delegates that it was back in 2013 that Credit Suisse took the strategic decision to go omnichannel, with relationship managers (RM) remaining as the core and an absolutely integral element of the wealth management and the private banking business.
“We remain true to that vision,” he reported. “Covid-19 has, without doubt, accelerated technological adoption and has spurred a survival-of-the-fittest landscape. We now have some newly introduced offerings from a digital perspective, such as ‘CS Chat’, which enables the RM to interact with their clients on their choice of social platforms, whether it is WhatsApp, Apple iMessage, WeChat or others that might be more specific to certain markets.”
He told delegates how CS Chat had seen an enormous increase in adoption since the pandemic, rising to a high level of engagement that has continued and expanded today. CS Chat is an entirely secure delivery protocol, he explained, and it facilitates interaction, instructions to the RMs and advisors, execution, delivery of documents etc. .
“At Credit Suisse,” he explained, “our continuous innovation journey in the last few years has placed us in good stead to be the private bank that is at the forefront of technological innovation. As digitalisation remains a key strategic long-term driver and enabler of sustainable business growth, we have continued investing in and strengthening our digital capabilities.”
He told delegates the bank had also further built out its digital private banking app and platform, where clients can execute their trades, self-service any banking needs, and review their positions and portfolios.
“Since the pandemic hit, our digital private banking platform has been incredibly active, especially for execution, with equities trading there surpassing the trades conducted via the RMs, at least for the plain vanilla, simpler products,” he reported. “In short, digital is here to stay and together with a strong relationship manager who can support our clients in more complex wealth management matters, this hybrid model is working extremely well at Credit Suisse.”
Keeping ahead of the chasing pack
Urs also addressed the question as to whether, as an early and prime mover towards digitisation, it might be more difficult today to differentiate with other plays catching up.
“We see ourselves as a pioneer in this space, and we have continuously proven our commitment to innovation. While competition has increased and others have been catching up with us, we have been able to constantly innovate,” he commented. “What we are now doing is refining the offering based on our success and this has resonated well with our clients. To offer some data points, approximately 80% of our clients are digitally enabled and 50% are engaged very regularly through the digital platform. During the peak of the pandemic, up to 60% of our equity trades were executed through our digital channels, freeing up our RM’s time to focus on engaging with clients on more value-added services.”
Credit Suisse moves into digitisation Phase 2
Accordingly, with high adoption rates already in the bag, Credit Suisse is, he reported, in phase two, where the bank is aiming to further automate to facilitate more complex products and processes, and use the channel to engage even more directly with clients on proprietary Credit Suisse content and ideas. “We are advancing all these areas, and yes, we recognise that the bar has been raised since we set out on this journey in 2013.”
As for the RMs themselves, Urs told delegates that the omnichannel approach ensures that there is scalability for the RM.
“And scalability translates to greater productivity,” he reported. “That is because the client to RM ratio is expanding, even in the pure private banking segment, as well as in lower segments of wealth where there is a greater degree of self-service.”
Omnichannel and scalability
Having said that, he observed that part of the key to the successful omnichannel approach is segmentation. “This is not simply categorised by levels of AUM, but also based on client behaviour and how the RMs actually interact with the clients, and vice versa,” he explained. “If the clients are particularly active traders, we must ensure they use the digital portal for self-service. Or if the client is more of a ‘validator’ where prefer more support, these clients will be more often served by the RMs.”
Turning to automation for more mundane tasks, Urs observed that this type of ‘heavy duty’ work remains cumbersome but that the digital framework set since 2013 helps to truly digitise and re-think our front-to-back ‘zero-hands-on’ digital solutions.
Efficiencies in the face of necessity
“If you take a suitability process, for example, the Hong Kong regulator is basically enforcing similar regulations for a private banking client as well as a retail banking client, so there are still many detailed regulations to comply with,” he explained.
“Accordingly, there is a need to redesign the entire front to back process, and to then disclose and accept those disclosures digitally with the clients, that's where you can make efficiency gains and this is similar for KYC and AML risks. Against this backdrop, there is a need to reengineer banks to take into account new regulatory requirements and also to enable efficiency.”
Building skills and engaging clients
Urs also discussed how the bank has been using technology to engage with clients. He notes that the younger generation tends to adopt digital tools faster. “They are digital natives who are more familiar with technology, and they feel much more comfortable with all this, whereas some older clients might be more reluctant to adopt digital banking,” he commented. However, age does not always prohibit older clients from adopting digital banking services, “The RM’s ability to explain why digital banking is of benefit to them is important whether it is from a timeliness perspective or an efficiency perspective.”
“When it comes to the RM’s perspective, you need to find the proper kind of balance, and have the in-house capabilities to train and to make the RMs feel comfortable using technology. With this in mind, the approach we have taken is to train and to expand knowledge. Technology moves very fast, so some younger RMs today may be challenged in the years to come by technology that is new to them.”
Constant vigilance and innovation
Urs closed his observations by explaining that the priority is to continuously upgrade and refine the bank’s digital offerings. “Our digital private banking platform is seven years old. We must continue to innovate, refine and upgrade, to boost the offering for our clients and for the RMs. We will also invest in greater automation in various areas such as suitability and KYC, or further automating a chat process. We will continue to challenge ourselves and to invest for the future; those are certainly our key priorities and key to our future.”
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