Guest comment: Private bankers are born, not made

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Simon Culliford, director of private banking search firm Culliford Edmonds Associates, on why the best private bankers come equipped with innate charm and a willingness to take late-night calls.

It's widely accepted that Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world today, and might well prove the best ever. Why? He's considered the most naturally gifted player in the current era, with the ability to raise his game at critical moments.

Crucially, he is able to do so during the most important events in which he plays - the four major golf championships - combining great mental strength and courage with immense natural talent.

Like Mr Woods, it's my (humble) opinion that the best of the 'relationship manager breed' (often known as 'hunters' in honour of their alpha male/female qualities, as opposed to less aggressive 'gatherers') are born and not made. That is, they possess distinct personal qualities which, when combined with the skills and knowledge they've acquired through a combination of formal training, on-the-job learning and self-development, enable them to exploit opportunities to build a client base and generate revenues.

So, how can you tell if you're innately suited to a life in private banking? Our research suggests you'll need at least four key attributes - strong personal drive, an appetite for self-development, financial acumen, and perhaps most important, social and influencing skills.

What does personal drive amount to? If you're a private banking natural, you'll have motivation, initiative and tenacity. All are vital in the hunt for new clients. There are no rewards for quitters (or non-hunting vegetarians) in private banking.

Then you'll need the kind of appetite for self-development that ensures you're constantly building your skills and knowledge, often achieved by spending time with the product specialists - the financial planners and the investment managers, plus those with the knowledge of hedge funds, property, private equity and other specialised areas.

Financial acumen is crucial. It will enable you to find the best solutions for your clients by drawing upon a deep understanding of their needs. After all, it's no good building relationships and hunting for clients if you don't know how to concoct a tasty stew with what you bring in.

But it's relationship-building skills that are most crucial of all. Great private bankers must be able to interact effectively with wealthy, dynamic individuals. Moreover, as many such individuals are time-poor, the private banker needs to make the right sort of impact at a very early stage. First impressions are never more critical.

And lastly, to make it big as a private banking 'hunter', you'll need to be 100% committed to the role. We find that the best relationship managers never switch off and are routinely in touch with their clients at all times of the day, seven days a week. Private banking is a lifestyle more than just a job - you will need to build very personal relationships with your clients, and to be ready to respond to them and meet their needs whether it's 10am in the morning or 10pm at night. A true hunter never sleeps.

Simon Culliford is a director and co-founder of Culliford Edmunds Associates, a recruitment firm specializing in private wealth management. Between 1994 and 1998 he was director of international private banking for Barclays Private Bank, and from 1998 to 2001 he was head of private banking, London for Union Bancaire Privée.

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