UBS executives say that they want to be the firm of choice for the nation's high-net-worth and ultrahigh-net-worth clients. With an evolving list of complex goals, those clients are expecting more from wealth management firms. 

As part of our special report on the state of wealth management, UBS' John Mathews, head of private wealth management, and Jason Chandler, group managing director, explain how the firm can meet those clients' needs.

What’s the industry’s current health?

Chandler: Our view is that it’s a great time to be in the advice business. Clients are definitely interested in getting advice across the wealth spectrum.

Mathews: As the world becomes more complicated and clients become wealthier, lives become more complicated. We can be helpful to our clients [in that regard].

How does that compare with the state of the industry five years ago?

Chandler: My view is that the impact of the financial crisis had every firm evaluate their core business, and so different firms had different strategies. I think the great thing about our firm is that as we emerged five years ago, our mission became clear: to be the firm of choice of ultrahigh-net-worth and high-net-worth clients.

Mathews: I think the other thing that has changed is that the world is becoming more of a global place, and I think it’ll even be more global over the next five years. We try to bring a global perspective to our clients because we have a global footprint.

What’s the biggest challenge the industry is facing?

Chandler: When you give advice to people, trust really becomes the most fundamental dynamic. I think industry-wide, the biggest challenge is in continuing to solidify the trust we have with clients.

How are the needs of wealthy clients changing?

Mathews: Five years ago, the conversations [between clients and advisors] were revolving around investments. Today, those conversations are increasingly about family.

Chandler: I met with a client last week who was a former C-suite exec at a Fortune 500 company, and who has a relationship with an advisor of ours in Indiana. We met for 45 minutes, and not once did he mention investments. It was about estate planning, transitioning wealth to his children, establishing a foundation to pursue his philanthropic interest.

Why are their needs changing?

Mathews: It’s certainly an aging demographic. As baby boomers get older, their mindset is different. Investments are table stakes to them. As you look at any wealthy demographic band, like high-net-worth clients, they are actually growing faster than what we would call core affluent or emerging affluent.

So these are topics that are at the front of their minds. It’s family, children, health-care issues, and then the investments are just a part of these conversations.

UBS has said it wants to increase advisor penetration in mortgages. Why is that important?

Chandler: The overall goal of the firm is to have the highest-quality client base and advisor force. When we interact with high-net-worth clients, they tell us they want advice across the spectrum, and that includes both sides of the balance sheet. We’ve been able to grow our mortgage offers, and that’s been in response to client demand.

Mathews: Sometimes, people say wealthy people don’t need mortgages, but the reality is that they come to us all the time. Sometimes it’s not for them; sometimes it’s for their children or grandchildren.

Is that an example of how the needs of high-net-worth clients’ are changing?

Mathews: I think in the past clients would have to go to multiple institutions to accomplish these things. Now they can come to one, UBS, and meet their liability, banking and other needs.

We need to provide these services so they don’t have to look elsewhere.

Is the industry doing a good job bringing younger advisors into the business?

Chandler: I can describe what we are doing at UBS, which is to be responsive to what clients say they want advice on.

We started a wealth planning analyst program, where we bring people into the business. They spend two years working predominantly on financial planning: creating, presenting and putting plans in place for clients.

Then they join a team that can continue to use that financial planning expertise and grow the business. So we’ve modified how we bring new people into the business because we recognize that it takes longer to get into the business.

What part is technology going to play in an advisor’s role five years from now?

Chandler: The relationship clients have with UBS is with our financial advisors. We view technology as an enabler to that relationship. It’s a way for advisers to interact with clients. Some of our technology investments are in line with that, allowing our advisors to become more mobile.

Mathews: There’s just no substitute for conversations, especially when you’re in the advice business. Technology can enable conversations, but it’ll never be a substitute.

Should today’s advisors be worried that they will be displaced by technology?

Chandler: What we find in high-net-worth and ultrahigh-net-worth clients is that they value the advice they receive from their advisors.

Mathews: Among these clients, the advice becomes more and more customized to that particular client. Sometimes, solutions are unique or exclusive; providing that through an online portal is very difficult. There’s always something that is not right out of the box for wealthy clients.

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