Winning clients in a pandemic: Jeremy Knowland, Citi Private Bank

Alexandra Newlove, 16/11/2020

The first in a series of articles looking at client recruitment in the age of Covid-19. Today, thewealthnet speaks to Jeremy Knowland, the market manager for Citi Private Bank in the UK.

It’s a matter that private bankers have pondered since the advent of Covid-19 and its subsequent series of lockdowns: How to onboard clients when contact is limited to a screen.

Nonetheless, Jeremy Knowland, UK market manager for Citi Private Bank, isn’t the only one to report that business is on the up as clients have more time to speak to their adviser and contemplate their affairs.

Mr Knowland won’t be drawn on exact numbers, other than to say the bank, which focuses on clients with investible assets in excess of £25 million, has had the best year on record for new clients and “fantastic” levels of inflows.

He portrays Citi’s pipeline as resilient given the amount of new business which comes via referrals from existing clients.

Jeremy Knowland

Mr Knowland points to high levels of satisfaction among the current client base. Citi's annual ‘Voice of the Client’ survey showed high levels of satisfaction this year – more than 60 percent of UK clients said Citi Private Bank was their first call when they need guidance – an important stat as Citi’s very wealthy clients generally have multiple banking relationships.

“This is a really strong endorsement of the work we’ve been doing, not just this year but in previous years. We’re very proud of that,” Mr Knowland says.

Since the start of lockdown, the strategy has been to over-communicate to clients: The CIO office holds weekly client calls, updating on the Citi view and answering questions. These calls were “hugely well attended” especially during the initial market downturn.

Around half of Citi PB’s existing clients have either taken out new discretionary mandates this year, or added to existing mandates.

“Some were very courageous in the early part of the year during the market crash, others have been much more cautious and needed reassurance,” Mr Knowland says.

“It’s our strategy to have a high banker to client ratio – each Citi banker generally has around 20 clients each, so it was relatively easy to reach everyone quickly [during times of market stress].”


The remote networking challenge

Mr Knowland says the first priority for the bank is always to look after the existing base, but “of course, we are always looking to grow”.

Flagship events were this year rearranged into a virtual form: The Autumn Dialogues – usually held as a retreat – is Citi’s annual flagship client event - instead featured online talks this year from Lord Hague, Condoleezza Rice, Ian Bremmer, and Dame Ellen MacAuthur.

The ‘Family Office Leadership Program’ also went ahead online featuring David Rubenstein, Larry Fink, The Rockefeller family, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Bruce Spector. This event is aimed at the senior executives of family offices and covers a range of topics most important to them including succession planning, technology and innovation, geopolitics, sustainable investing.

Mr Knowland said the drawback of not being able to host in-person is that families miss out on some of the experience sharing and networking that they would usually experience at an event like the Dialogues.

However, he said the social aspect is a “nice to have”, with most clients much more focused on the core proposition and the relationship with their banker, as opposed to what they’ll be invited to as a Citi client.

He was also aware for the potential for Zoom fatigue, balanced by the fact that online events reach a wider client base and are not as much of a time commitment for attendees.


The way ahead

Mr Knowland said the outlook for the bank remained positive, with some sectors performing extremely well, he did not foresee a slowdown in wealth creation events in the near future.

“I would also hope that in the event of a prolonged downturn, given our abilities and reputation as a truly global private bank, along with the positive feedback we’re getting… we would still be able to grow our client base.”

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