Private Banking and Wealth Management Survey 2021: Banking’s new engine
Once a branch line of the banking industry, private banking and wealth management is now a driver in its own right. It offers a powerful way to grow income, valuations and returns. But the pressure is on as banks need to scale up or sell out.
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The Private Banking and Wealth Management Survey provides a qualitative review of the best services in private banking, by region and by areas of service. It is an informative guide for high net-worth individuals on the range of professional wealth management service providers that are available.
UBS’s wealth management team had another stellar year despite the Covid crisis – and once again the Swiss lender takes the top spot in Euromoney’s private banking survey.
The Spanish group’s rise to private banking prominence didn’t happen overnight. An internal merger helped, as did work integrating Europe and Latin America. The next step will be the biggest of all, as it begins a concerted push into the US.
The next decade will be one of great change for the private banking industry. Wealth will narrow at the top end, as it settles into the hands of a select group of the super-rich.
Further down the pyramid, it will broaden to serve more high net-worth (HNW) families, super-affluents and mass-affluents – in multiple markets.
Providers will fight for the right to serve a prized client, driven by a raft of factors, from the industry’s capital un-intensive model to its elevated valuations, higher fees and better return on equity.
Once a handy add-on to the financial model, private banking will increasingly drive income and activity in investment banking, not the other way round.
As competition intensifies, falling barriers to entry will pit universal lenders against private banks and a host of new players, from boutique environmental, social and governance (ESG) advisers and big tech, to global asset managers and private equity firms keen to drive consolidation.
Some financial institutions will emerge better and with their reputations enhanced. Others will cut their losses and sell up.
Change is a strange thing. Ernest Hemingway might have said, it happens gradually, then suddenly. That’s how life is for wealth managers in the early 2020s.
Twenty years ago, it was an industry “seen as simple ‘investment management,’” says a leading private banker. “Now it is a discipline of its own, a far more sophisticated and separate segment of the financial industry than ever before.”
Wealth managers are pretty steady in good and bad times
Not long ago, it was a supplementary income stream for banks – important but hardly a valuation driver.
Now it is not just expected to pull its weight but to be a main driver of a financial business, a message that echoes out loud and clear from the chief executive’s office.
“Piyush [Gupta] is telling us: ‘You guys should do more,’” says Joseph Poon, group head of DBS Private Bank in Singapore, referring to his chief executive.
The push to put wealth at the heart of the banking model did not happen overnight. Unsurprisingly, one of the first institutions to put it front and centre was Swiss.
In 2011, the incoming chief executive of UBS, Sergio Ermotti, exited poor-performing services and placed private banking once more at the heart of the world’s largest wealth manager.
Plenty of European private banks would of course contend that managing money was always what they did best.
Hamburg-based Berenberg Bank has been offering wealth services since 1590. Lombard Odier, Swiss and still proudly independent, has been delivering progressive private banking products since 1796.
“It is a bit difficult for a firm that’s 225 years old to say it is a seismic moment in private banking,” says Patrick Odier, senior managing partner and chairman of the board of directors at Bank Lombard Odier. “We always say we have seen more than 40 crises, and they all bring their own challenges and situations.”
But change is clearly in the air and, like most revolutions, its seeds were sown long ago.
For more than a decade, banks have been harried by rule-happy regulators. Europe’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directives; the revised Payment Services Directive; the packaged retail investment and insurance products regulations; and the coming replacement of Libor are all well-intentioned but costly to implement.
That is in addition to all the other stuff banks must do: modernize core systems, roll out new products and navigate a pandemic.
[Merging wealth and consumer businesses] helps to create synergy and to synthesize costs
Add in punitive actions (in 2017, Boston Consulting Group put the fines paid by banks since the global financial crisis at $321 billion) and the result is sheer exhaustion.
Across the industry there is “a huge degree of change fatigue,” says Oliver Gregson, head of private bank, UK and Ireland at JPMorgan Private Bank.
Allied to this is a sense that the financial industry isn’t ready for the radical change set to sweep across the sector.
“The business model of yesterday is no longer fit for purpose,” says Gregson. “A confluence of factors has converged to create some of the most profound pressures and changes on the industry for a generation. The need to adjust is like trying to rewire a fully loaded Boeing 747 mid-flight.”
Why is this relevant to private banking? Because it is one of the few areas where banks can generate higher returns in the form of fees and income, without excessive heavy lifting. However, there are costs to bear and rules to follow.
“The reality is that the operating cost of wealth management is increasing due to regulatory pressure and to the complexity of the service offering,” says Yvan Gaillard, chief executive of boutique Swiss firm Banque Syz.
But there are plenty of positive trade-offs.
The wealth management divisions of universal lenders are “net liquidity providers, relatively capitally un-intensive, and provide annuity income streams which result in higher return on equity,” says Gregson. “They also offer strong client relationships with the potential for cross-referral between other lines of business.”
Private banking offers a chance to keep fees high and balance sheets light.
Default rates, unlike those in corporate lending, are close to zero. Risks are massively mitigated, as the bank knows the customer well. Net new money is easier to predict, and it is possible to see, up to three years in advance, where earnings will be.
“In general, private banking is less prone to crises,” says Choy-Lin van der Hooft-Cheong, chief executive of ABN Amro MeesPierson, the Dutch lender’s private bank. “Wealth managers are pretty steady in good and bad times; it is quite a resilient business. It helps to lessen the load when corporate and investment banking struggles through a down-cycle.”
The 10 largest wealth managers control about 27% of the industry
Signs of its rising importance to mainstream institutions leap out of annual and quarterly reports. UBS’s global wealth management (GWM) division accounted for 54.3% of group-wide operating profit and 81% of net interest income in 2018.
A year later, the respective ratios were up to 61% and 87.6%.
“We had three regions in wealth management that made more than $1 billion in pre-tax profit last year, and in Switzerland we made $600 million,” says Tom Naratil, co-president wealth management Americas, and president UBS Americas. “Each one of those regions is in and of itself among the world’s largest wealth managers.”
At Spain’s Santander, wealth management and insurance accounted for 17% of underlying profit attributable to the parent in the first nine months of 2019, against 10.6% in the same period two years ago.
In the three years to the end of 2019, JPMorgan’s asset and wealth management division generated an average annual return on equity of 27.3%. Compare that with its other segments: consumer and community banking (25.3%), commercial banking (18%), and corporate and investment banking (14.7%), with a group-wide average of 13.8%.
It strongly suggests that over an extended period, there’s no better place for the US bank to put shareholder capital to work.
It is hard to find data that suggests otherwise. Gregson says JPMorgan research shows wealth services make up 35% of the valuation of the modern bank.
“Good independent wealth managers trade at decent double-digit price-to-equity multiples and nearer two times price-to-book,” he adds. “The big IBD [investment banking]-centric banks tend to trade at lower multiples and less than one times book. Wealth managers are super valuable to a universal bank as it boosts the overall value they trade at.”
DBS’s Poon adds: “The price-to-earnings ratio for a dollar earned by a private bank is higher than a dollar earned by a corporate bank.”
Recognizing the value of a supercharged wealth management division is one thing, arriving at the right strategy and operating model is quite another.
There are endless permutations in an industry that serves everyone from those on the lowest rung of the wealth ladder to global family offices with institution-like needs.
We will see multiple mergers and acquisitions across Europe and especially in Switzerland
Perhaps the most interesting one from a ‘will it work’ standpoint is the retail banking-wealth management combination.
This has plenty of proponents. Beyond the fact that it offers up new ways to channel tailored wealth products to underserved retail customers, the key factor driving this change is cost.
“When you see banks merging their wealth and consumer business, it is essentially about cutting costs and managing headcount,” says DBS’s Poon. “It helps to create synergy and to synthesize costs.”
To ABN Amro’s van der Hooft-Cheong, it makes sense for a bank to put all the wealth services it extends to its retail clients in a single place.
“It is more efficient to develop products and services that fit retail and private banking clients’ basic financial needs at the same pace; and in that way, you can serve and share the costs over more clients,” she says.
Others aren’t convinced. The unknown is whether it will work for the end-customer and the private banker.
“If I was a private-banking client, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable being in a bank’s retail arm,” says one wealth manager. “When you see mergers like that, there are often a lot of CVs out there.”
Any bank that merges its teams would be wise to keep an eye out for internal discontent.
“When you merge private and retail banking, the private-banking relationship managers generally fear they will be retailized,” says DBS’s Poon.
In 2019, the Singapore lender did just that, pooling its private bank and its Treasures Private Client division, which promises customers “the best of private banking and consumer banking”.
“When banks make big business model changes – merge assets or carve them up for example – you run the risk of infighting and of a sense of one division absorbing the other,” says Poon. “Things can get muddy.
“If not well handled, it could spark risks such as a loss of identity – that RMs [relationship managers] start wondering: ‘Am I the big brother or the little brother in this relationship?’ and, ‘How does this affect me when I see my peers in the industry?’ It is a delicate situation.
“So, talent retention and grooming were key priorities for us, and thankfully we didn’t lose a single member of staff.”
Another long-term driver of change is consolidation.
What surprises about private banking is how cluttered it is.
“At the upper end of the wealth spectrum, the industry is very fragmented,” says Effie Datson, global head, family office, at Barclays Private Bank. “The 10 largest wealth managers control about 27% of the industry. Each market has its own constellation of operators.”
That looks set to change.
“We envisage consolidation as firms look to achieve larger scale in order to drive down costs and acquire greater assets under management,” says Jim O’Donnell, head of Citi Global Wealth.
Banks are already exploring ways to gain the right kind of scale.
If you are below critical mass, you will struggle to invest
In October 2020, Morgan Stanley agreed to buy New York-listed Eaton Vance for $7 billion in a deal that will nearly double its assets under management (AuM). The Wall Street bank was drawn to the target’s expertise in ESG investing and bespoke high-end wealth services.
Gaillard at Banque Syz says the M&A cycle has only just begun.
“It slowed down last year due to the pandemic, but we will see multiple mergers and acquisitions across Europe and especially in Switzerland, where we have come down from 300 private banks to 100. In five years’ time, it will be less than 100.”
He says the Geneva-based private bank, which opened for business in 1996, is “still looking for opportunities to acquire, be it a bank or an external asset manager”.
DBS has been active in the M&A market for years. It acquired Societe Generale’s Asia private banking business in 2014 and added ANZ’s wealth management business in five Asia markets, including Singapore and Hong Kong, four years later.
In November 2020, DBS bought the distressed Indian private bank Lakshmi Vilas.
“We are always in the market,” says Poon. “We always look for the right acquisition – and we are always in the market for the right franchise with a quality client base.”
How the industry shakes out is hard to predict, but some outcomes are more likely than others.
Surviving the headwinds
Specialist wealth managers will endure. It is hard to see a proudly independent firm such as Lombard Odier, with AuM of SFr290 billion ($324 billion) at the end of June 2020, giving in to the advances of a suitor that oversees more assets.
“If you are below critical mass, you will struggle to invest,” says Odier.
Scale, he adds, “gives you the profitability that is key to future investment. In our case, we look to avoid offering our clients standard mass products. We aren’t a volume driven institution; we want to be ‘right-sized’.”
To the likes of UBS, scale means size but also specialization. The Swiss lender employs 75 people around the world whose sole job is philanthropic advisory.
“These clients look for a unique relationship with their wealth manager, and we are there to meet their needs across multiple, more complex services and solutions,” says Iqbal Khan, co-president of global wealth management at UBS.
Those in the middle will really struggle
But others, their shareholders unable to resist a buyer with deeper pockets, will surely succumb.
JPMorgan’s Gregson says the industry is liable to be squeezed in the middle, with niche providers surviving to fight another day, along with lenders with universal banking capabilities.
“Those in the middle will really struggle from the major headwinds of regulatory changes, rising costs of doing business, fee compression” and the search for trusted investment advice, he says. “With returns likely to be lower going forward, you have a challenging growth environment for any private bank with less than $20 billion in AuM.”
Poon adds: “The danger lies with the small boutique banks who haven’t invested in technology and can’t keep pace. They’re at risk of facing potential buyouts by larger banks or even private equity.”
That is not to say consolidation will be easy. Lenders will be highly reluctant to sell private banking assets, seeing them as a jewel in the crown and the kind of asset that, once shed, makes them less valuable and thus easier prey for buyers.
Mergers can be hard work, especially in the financial space. Agreeing a price is just the start of integrating two corporate cultures.
“[When] we go for an acquisition, the other party would have to have a similar DNA to ours,” says Gaillard. “We wouldn’t buy an asset just because it is available at the right price.”
Two other factors look set to drive consolidation as wealth management grows.
The first is the emergence of new competition, from asset managers keen to offer a range of scalable wealth services, and from big tech.
The other is the encroachment of buyout firms.
“Some big private equity names are starting to realize there is a huge opportunity to play a role as a consolidator and take out a lot of cost,” notes Gregson.
Historically, private equity and banking have not mixed well – and for good reason. It is easier to deal with food supply chains or new drugs than the intricacies of offering financial services in multiple highly and differently regulated markets.
But the industry is changing. Rules that boost transparency make it easier to value not only the service but also the provider.
“Private equity absolutely sees an opportunity here to buy, consolidate, inject a higher quality of management and play a role as a consolidator,” says an investment banker. “You’ll see firms buying $5 billion in assets here, $10 billion there, and piecing it all together.”
In June 2020, New York-based Warburg Pincus said it would invest at least £250 million in the proposed merger of two UK wealth management firms, Tilney and Smith & Williamson.
The combined group will employ 280 investment managers and oversee £44 billion in assets.
In that vein, Wells Fargo’s decision to close its international wealth management business, which oversees $40 billion in assets, by September 2021, looks well timed.
It could sell to a rival bank or to a buyout firm. Either way, the auction should be guaranteed a good turnout.
The primary challenge each institution faces is its ability to make itself special; to be all but irreplaceable in the eyes of the customer.
As the client becomes ever more global and wealth more portable, that should benefit the world’s few remaining global lenders, notably those that have invested well and wisely in new forms of technology.
But even they face an uncertain future. Technology is an amazing enabler.
Van der Hooft-Cheong says it helps ABN Amro make “simple, personal decisions that matter, such as sending flowers on birthdays or anniversaries. During Covid, [clients] really appreciate that touch.”
We can never forget that this remains a people business
One leading wealth manager points to an internally developed algorithm that figures out what a customer wants, based on product usage. A pilot programme in 2020 secured a 50% conversion rate in terms of matching products to clients.
Technology has only just begun to disrupt the industry.
“My view is you will see a future of finance that will have a very different engine to it,” says Gregson. “The use of AI, machine learning, big data, internet of things, [these] are genuine game changes that will lead to a radical ‘re-architecting’ of financial services, with the possibility for disorderly regime change.”
But technology will only get you so far. O’Donnell is not alone in pointing out that human interaction will continue to underpin client relationships.
“We can never forget that this remains a people business,” he says. “The question over the next 10 years is how you marry technology with the human touch.”
The human factor will only grow in importance, particularly in terms of serving the world’s wealthiest families. It is why Tidjane Thiam moved to align Credit Suisse’s private banking and investment banking divisions as soon as he was named chief executive in 2015.
Thiam believed wealth was no longer a distinct part of the financial furniture. He saw providing elite wealth services to ultra-high net-worths (UHNWs), including those with a family office, could drive activity across the franchise, from corporate lending to pre-IPO funding and help the Swiss lender to gain underwriting spots on juicy stock listings. He was right.
Philipp Wehle, chief executive, International Wealth Management at Credit Suisse, says: “The UHNW client wants and deserves to get the best from multiple disciplines. The siloed business model is one of the past, and this positive change has been driven by client demand, client focus and industry competition.”
This matters in all kinds of ways. Amin Rajan, chief executive of UK-based financial advisory network Create Research, reckons we are entering an era where banks must offer what he calls “hyper-personalized” advice to rich clients.
Driving this in part is inequality. As more wealth is concentrated in the hands of a monied elite in regions such as Asia and Latin America, “those individuals need better services about preserving wealth and helping it grow and generating income streams for philanthropy and inter-generational transfer of wealth,” says Rajan. “These are long-established trends, but they are accelerating.”
One veteran private banker says the real value in his industry is in being able to give a customer the one thing its competitor cannot.
UBS’s Naratil describes wealth management as an “emotional business” where relationship managers are expected to go the extra mile.
“When someone says: ‘My wife and I are not sure our children or grandchildren share our values’, or: ‘I’m not sure I trust my future daughter-in-law’ – that’s a pretty deep and personal conversation,” he says. “That’s what our advisers do for families.”
At the very highest echelons of wealth, the way a wealth adviser has to think reflects the deal-fever creativity that drives M&A.
Take, for example, a Europe-based family office (FO) that wants to invest alongside a group of FOs in Latin America. It is an investment bank-like mandate, but it sits within private banking; the lender that finds the right deal at the right price and with the right set of people will profit handsomely and earn the client’s loyalty.
[Banks must offer] hyper-personalized [advice]
This is why the upper reaches of private banking are such a crowded space.
“A lot of banks are going into the high-end affluent market,” says one leading wealth manager. “It is accelerating, and it will continue to grow as the needs of the clients are evolving.”
This drive to deliver underlies many of the strategic decisions banks now make.
When Citi moved in January 2021 to create a unified wealth management division, it did so to better serve not just its ultra-wealthy clients but also the aspirational HNWs who might one day join them at the top table.
“Private banking clients are critically important to the corporate and institutional banking business,” says O’Donnell, head of the new Citi Global Wealth unit. “They have capital to deploy, they have financing needs through their companies, and their interests span the world. In that way they are like institutional investors.”
The choice of O’Donnell to head the new division is telling. His last role was co-head of investor sales, which involved distributing global markets products to Citi’s equities, fixed income, currencies and commodities clients. It is more evidence of how integral wealth management is to every part of a bank.
It is also worth noting that Citi’s incoming chief executive Jane Fraser served as chief executive of its global private banking operations from 2009 to 2013.
Making ESG work
It is likely private banking has never been more important. This is true because personal wealth continues to rise at all levels across almost all markets and because the industry is neither pro nor counter-cyclical. It performs well in good years and when times are tough.
During the Covid crisis, wealth management services, fuelled by market volatility, have been a key profit driver for most financial institutions.
The industry is likely to do well in 2021 but, absent last year’s volatility, it will be for other reasons.
“In a crisis situation, private banking clients have an opportunity to buy cut-price assets,” says ABN Amro’s van der Hooft-Cheong. “They are always looking for returns, and there are opportunities now in real estate, in buying companies. That is something that we as a bank can help with.”
Another way in which wealth managers will stand out from the crowd and drive business to other parts of the institution is through the increasing importance of sustainability issues.
Rare is the conversation between an RM and a client that doesn’t touch on sustainability.
WM has to work hand in hand with trading, AM and IB
One banker points to a number of company founders he serves who are frantically cleaning up their corporate act just to convince a scion to join the family business rather than a funky startup.
Getting sustainability right is imperative.
JPMorgan’s Gregson says the “financial materiality of ESG factors is too big to ignore for clients and a fiduciary from both a risk and return perspective. I would hazard that we won’t call it ESG in 10 years’ time. It will simply be how things are done – it will just be what a good investment portfolio looks like.”
O’Donnell adds that ESG “will be a critical lens through which all investing happens. It is being driven across the entire wealth spectrum by pension funds, institutional investors, UHNW investors and the next generation, who care deeply about ESG issues and want to invest with purpose in line with their beliefs.”
Banks are playing catch-up here. Some institutions are still figuring out how to make ESG work for them and for clients. They are scrambling to stay ahead of the rules, to create truly sustainable products and to figure out what it means for different investors.
Some wealth managers are ahead of the curve.
“If there is one extraordinary opportunity that wealth management has to look carefully at, and which presents fantastic opportunities, it is the way in which society is looking at its future economic model,” says Odier.
He says Lombard Odier has been “working on sustainability insights and investment expertise for 25 years – looking at which opportunities are growing and expanding faster than anticipated, and if the current economic model has reached its limits of exploration.”
Odier says that in his view, the limits of our economic model “are being reached. We need to move to a more sustainable, regenerative alternative – a future based on a circular, lean, inclusive and clean economic model.”
The bank uses a proprietary Consciousness, Action and Results (CAR) system to sort 115 data points to differentiate between “talkers, doers and real achievers”, to offer “a deeper understanding of genuine corporate sustainability.”
Claiming to cover 99.8% of an index, the CAR system was introduced over a decade ago – a reminder that some banks are hardly beginners when it comes to ESG.
Wealth managers who fail to prepare for ESG are preparing to fail.
“We have built new ESG lenses for our people and have developed leading sustainable investing capabilities,” says Odier. “If you don’t do that, your clients will notice as this has become a core offering.”
A far newer offering is the $400 million Natural Capital Fund, launched by Lombard Odier in November 2020.
A first of its kind in the public equity markets, it invests in 40 to 50 carefully selected ‘high-conviction’ firms that are super-sustainable pioneers of a more regenerative circular economy model.
There’s a more linear way of seeing the impact of ESG investing from a bank’s point of view. Sustainability is increasingly the beating heart of private banking, which in turn is driving income across corporate and investment banking.
Get the first one right and the effects cascade through the institution.
It is hard to overestimate the value of private banking and wealth management in the 2020s. Once a useful but stuffy backwater of the financial industry, it is now a key source of revenues and fees, and maybe the most important internal driver of market value.
“Global wealth assets will continue to grow, emerging economies will grow faster than developed markets,” says a leading private banker. “UHNWs and HNWs will continue to expand dramatically around the world – and we want to be a part of that.”
This year’s model
There is no one-size-fits-all model for private banking, but a few all-purpose models are starting to emerge.
Amin Rajan, chief executive of UK-based financial advisory network Create Research, carves the modern wealth industry into four basic operating types.
The first group comprises ‘alpha’ specialists like the Swiss independents – such as Lombard Odier and Julius Baer – that invest in harmony with individual and institutional investors.
Then come ‘solutions specialists’ – big banks like Citi and HSBC – that deliver an array of products to investors engaged in life-cycle financial planning.
‘Beta’ specialists like BlackRock and Vanguard add new layers of competition by creating simple low-cost options, with or without ESG lenses on portfolios.
HSBC is working to embed BlackRock Aladdin Wealth platform into its advisory offering.
“It results in us offering institutional level capabilities to meet the complex needs of our private clients,” says Lavanya Chari, global head of investments and products group, private banking and wealth management at HSBC.
The final group is ‘integrated houses’ – Rajan points to JPMorgan – big firms that operate across the investment spectrum and whose brand and reach put them, he adds, in “pole position – attracting investors from every market segment globally.”
This drive to find the model that works best is visible everywhere.
Two emerging market-oriented UK banks now shelter consumer banking and wealth management under one roof.
Standard Chartered finished a three-year internal re-jig in January 2021, while HSBC announced plans to combine a business with $1.4 trillion in assets in March 2020. In January this year it promoted Willem Sels to the position of global chief investment officer of private banking and wealth management.
Citi Global Wealth
Citi announced its own move in the second week of January 2021. A new unified wealth management unit called Citi Global Wealth pools its global consumer banking and institutional clients group teams, incorporating Citi Private Banking and Citi Personal Wealth Management.
The brainchild of a trio of executives – incoming chief executive Jane Fraser, head of global consumer banking Anand Selva, and chief executive of institutional clients group Paco Ybarra – the new division will be run by Jim O’Donnell, previously global head of investor sales and relationship management.
Citi’s strategy is to focus more heavily on the $10 million to $25 million wealth bracket.
“We need to focus on this HNW segment more consistently and in more depth than we have in the past,” says O’Donnell.
The logic is strong for three reasons.
First, this middle-realm of HNWs – squeezed between mass-affluents and UHNWs – has been underserved for too long.
Second, the HNW universe is full of future UHNWs, notably in places like Asia, where Citi is strong.
It knows if it fails to cater to their investment aspirations now, another bank will – and will profit from that family’s future needs, including high-margin work like estate planning and pre-IPO funding.
And third, new forms of technology allow big banks to crunch vast pools of data to offer personalized wealth services – once the preserve of the wealthy and super-wealthy – to mass- and super-affluents.
Swiss operating models
Every financial institution has its own approach, and Switzerland’s big wealth managers are constantly refining their operating models.
In July 2020, Credit Suisse created Global Trading Solutions. A joint venture on the trading side of the business spanning private banking and investment banking. It offers complex solutions from equity derivatives to FX, with a focus on the needs of wealthy clients.
“UHNW clients want to book in multiple locations for their asset and liability needs,” says Philipp Wehle, chief executive, International Wealth Management at Credit Suisse. “Wealth management has to work hand in hand with trading, asset management and investment banking. It takes a lot of effort and time to put all those pieces together.”
Last year, UBS created a new internal group called Global Family Office, a joint venture between GWM and investment banking, offering what it describes as “holistic, institutionalized coverage for sophisticated family offices”.