Urs Lichtenberger on Elevating the Art of Private Banking through Ongoing Digital Transformation
Urs Lichtenberger is Head of Client & Front-Office Platform for Credit Suisse Asia Pacific, based in Singapore. Hubbis had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A with Urs recently, and we found someone who remains totally dedicated to continued digital transformation, but also a 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. He explains how Credit Suisse was an early and prime mover in digital transformation in wealth management, 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.
Hubbis: In what ways has the Covid-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the private banking industry and the Credit Suisse approach to operations and service?
Urs: Covid-19 has without doubt accelerated technology adoption and has spurred a survival-of-the-fittest landscape. Companies that are able to adapt, innovate and evolve their business model to capitalise on opportunities in the digital world will thrive.
At Credit Suisse, 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.
Since 2020, at the start of the pandemic and in the current year, we continued to rapidly leverage our innovative and pioneering digital private banking platform and channels, to drive digital engagement with clients on a larger and broader scale. There was an almost instantaneous adjustment of our service delivery model where our business traffic on Credit Suisse Chat and our Digital Private Banking platforms surged, and we executed an exceptionally high volume of trades.
We are continuing to communicate via innovative channels and approaches such as webinars, calls, podcasts and videos to update clients on key investment themes. Through these channels, we provided thought leadership and guidance to our clients, and we expect technology and digitalisation to only become more prevalent as we move forward.
For us, ensuring that our digital capabilities are at the leading edge is key to making Credit Suisse fit for the future.
Hubbis: How is your bank optimising the utility of the relevant digital tools to prepare frontline staff for client engagement in a post-pandemic environment?
Urs: As leaders in digital innovation, we have been leading in this field in bringing digital solutions to private banking, and we believe that the strategy we have deployed to market has three key benefits.
First, it is the empowerment of the client and also of the relationship manager. Second, it is about connectivity – anytime, anywhere, and the way clients want it. Third, it is also about that notion of protecting, making Credit Suisse the ‘guardian angel’ of the portfolio performance as well as of the risk parameters of the clients. We are augmenting the service abilities of the relationship managers with the support of technology.
When it comes to connectivity, client and relationship manager engagement on our various digital tools and platforms is high, and it continues to grow exponentially.
Since February 2020, we have seen another significant increase in the use of our digital solutions by our clients and relationship managers. We have also seen an increase in client engagement on Credit Suisse Chat, which allows our clients to conveniently engage with our relationship managers via chat messaging, through which we recorded a threefold increase in the number of instructions received in the first half of 2020 as compared to the second half of 2019.
Amid the height of the pandemic, we continued to provide thought leadership and guidance to our clients via about 200 digital engagements across Asia Pacific, enjoying a very positive response as the cumulative attendance for this new type of market engagement exceeded 45,000 participants in 2020.
Consumers in Asia tend to react very positively to digital innovations, and we believe demand for digital private banking services will continue. Our Asian private banking clients tend to be more tech-savvy and demand digital innovations in banking services. Moreover, some of them are younger next-generation clients, and a number of them have increasingly built their wealth in the technology sector, and have a very different relationship with technological channels.
The Next Generation is our future clientele, and they are focused on trends including impact investing, ESG and sustainability. Going digital in the private banking for Credit Suisse also means going green and being aligned to the global trend of moving towards a more sustainable future.
While we believe the next phase of the private banking business lies in the use of innovative digital technology to improve the client experience, relationship managers will still remain at the heart of banking relationships. What technology does is to “augment” the service ability of each relationship manager by providing scale in account management, curated and personalised content as well as ”on the go” access and convenience.
By introducing more “robo” and Artificial Intelligence capabilities, our focus is not to replace our relationship managers, but to make them smarter, more efficient and to focus them on the things that matter most to their clients. For our relationship managers, we have rolled out AI capabilities to provide relevant, actionable insights to them about clients’ portfolio health, investment ideas and the like.
As part of our innovation journey, Credit Suisse partnered with a Fintech company called Canopy to enable our multi-banked clients to have an aggregated overview of their assets. The Canopy offering is integrated into our Digital Private Banking platform, and clients who signed up for it can see detailed and best-in-class portfolio analytics across all their assets. Credit Suisse and some peers are also delivering automated data feeds to Canopy if requested by the client and other bank assets can be added to the platform. This holistic view enables clients to take the best informed investment decisions, all while benefitting from Credit Suisse’s unique product offerings and expertise to implement the best investment strategies for them.
At Credit Suisse, our digital platform places us at the forefront of providing digital wealth management services to our current and next generation of clients, while creating a new multi-channel hybrid private banking service delivery model, combining digital technology and the bank’s relationship management team.
Hubbis: Have you seen a rapid shift to digital adoption?
Urs: As I mentioned, Covid-19 has without doubt accelerated technology adoption. However, Credit Suisse did not wait for 2020 to tell us that technology is critical. We knew from very early on that technology is vital to being relevant in the future, and in 2020, it proved to be crucial for business continuity and growth during the pandemic.
Credit Suisse was therefore one of the early movers in embracing digital innovation, and technology continues to be of paramount importance to us. We have a firm belief that technology will shape the future by defining the way clients consume financial services going forward.
Our aim is to consolidate our leadership position and extend our digital lead through constant innovation. It is extremely important to be nimble and flexible when it comes to technology as embracing the right technology and creating innovative solutions are at the heart of our enhanced service offering. By harnessing technology, we will continue building thoughtfully designed experiences that truly reflect our clients’ needs and their behaviour to deliver a higher level of client service.
Hubbis: How has the pandemic impacted client experience?
Urs: As a digital-ready bank, we are prepared for all kinds of situations, and given recent events, it is clear that this is the right strategy. Through technology, we not only empower clients and our bankers, but we also increase connectivity and touchpoints between them. For example, we have augmented what the bank can offer to our clients – through the use of data analytics we are able to deliver personalised and timely content suited to the investment appetite of each client.
For example, our platform SPARK delivers targeted investment ideas and data-driven recommendations, with integrated automated investment suitability controls. In 2020, there was a 3.5 times increase in the number of views on product pages and a more than five-fold increase in the number of product searches.
When it comes to connectivity, engagement with clients on our various digital tools and platforms is high, and it continues to grow exponentially. We believe that this rise in agility will persist post-pandemic on the back of a higher digital adoption rate.
Digital channels help to maintain close contact with clients through engagement in the form of daily personal updates, deep-dive investment sessions and changes in Credit Suisse’s macroeconomic views, just to name a few.
There was an almost instantaneous adjustment of our service delivery model during the pandemic, as our business traffic on Credit Suisse Chat (CS Chat) and our Digital Private Banking platforms surged, and an exceptionally high volume of trades was executed digitally.
Since February last year, we have seen a significant increase in the use of our digital solutions by our clients and relationship managers (RMs). For example, on CS Chat, which allows our clients to conveniently engage with our relationship managers through chat messaging, the number of messages exchanged between our clients and our RMs increased by four times in 1H 2020 vs 2H 2019 and stayed on that level throughout 2020. Moreover, the number of messages exchanged among our staff increased by six times in 1H 2020 vs 2H 2019. We have also seen an increase in client engagement on CS Chat, with a triple increase in the number of instructions received via the CS Chat in 1H 2020 vs 2H 2019.
Our Digital Private Banking platform has a high adoption rate of over 65% (eligible clients who have signed up), exceeding the adoption levels of some retail banks. In fact, equity trading volumes via the app increased by 150% in 2020, and forex trade volumes doubled year-on-year, while more than half of equity trades for private banking APAC are being placed via the app.
Clients are also highly engaged on the digital platform, with their average login increasing in recent months to one login every two to three days. Alternative channels of communications, such as conference calls and virtual meetings, have become popular and was well-received by clients, with the bank hosting over 200 virtual engagements across Asia Pacific from February till year-end.
This is part of our ongoing efforts to help our clients navigate the markets by delivering our best-in-class advisory content as well as insights on our excellent products and solutions. We expect the adoption of digital engagement to be sustained even after Covid-19 and will continue to provide our clients with relevant and timely advice through their channel of choice.
Of course, there are some activities like wealth planning services that require face-to-face interaction and are more high-touch in nature and are thus challenging during a time for social distancing and smaller group gatherings. Nevertheless, we believe that there will be increased demand for such services post the pandemic, and Credit Suisse will be ready to leverage the pent-up demand for our high-touch services once the situation normalises.
Hubbis: How has the pandemic impacted the delivery of digital solutions?
Urs: The pandemic has demonstrated to us the importance of being able to react fast, and the need to adjust technology roadmaps to cater to unexpected external impact and needs.
Credit Suisse is a bank that has integrated a culture of “agile delivery” into our technological development framework, and therefore we have a long history of investing in automated technology deployments with modern technology and delivery concepts. All these are proven to be instrumental in our ability to react fast and are part of the new requirements in next-generation platforms to ensure a smooth continuation of the defined digital roadmaps.
While the social distancing and working from home created some challenges in terms of adopting an agile and collaborative approach, our infrastructure readiness mitigated these challenges by helping not only our front office colleagues to seamlessly work from home but as well our developers and Subject Matter Experts to collaborate and continue to enhance our digital solutions.
Hubbis: What can your clients expect in 2021 and beyond?
Urs: Building on the foundations of the digital platform in the last few years, we are developing greater, newer capabilities and a full digital offering focused on the client experience, complete with data and analytics as key enabling capabilities.
Regarding the client experience, we aim to serve clients based on their needs, build trust and strong brand loyalty through differentiating client experiences and the delivery of multi-access, multi-channel solutions. We will further expand our successful Credit Suisse Chat offering by connecting to a wider variety of social media applications, for example, WhatsApp.
As to data and analytics, our goal is to stay informed, safe and relevant through data insights and predictions. We will increase our data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities and develop a deeper understanding of our clients’ needs in order to deliver hyper-personalised suitable and compliant service.
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. Urs was instrumental in the successful rehaul and digitalisation of the Private Banking platform with the launch of the award winning digital private banking platform, while introducing a new change management organisation to ensure the business was fully equipped to leverage the technological tools.
He has more than 15 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.
He is Swiss by birth and holds an Executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland in Business Engineering.
Urs is a happily married father of two, the elder of whom is studying overseas and is deeply missed by the family due to the longer separation demanded by the pandemic and travel restrictions. Spare time nowadays sees him continuing to enjoy playing football in Singapore in amateur leagues, and peaceful times at home see him enjoying his electric or acoustic guitars.
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