Credit Suisse's Francois Monnet On The Bank's 165 Years As An Entrepreneur
When Credit Suisse says it is in tune with the requirements of entrepreneurs, it is speaking from experience. The Swiss bank knows what entrepreneurs need because it has always been entrepreneurial itself—starting from its founding back in 1856.
“Entrepreneurship is really in the very DNA of Credit Suisse,” says its head of private banking North Asia, François Monnet. “It started as a platform to finance one of the most expensive, capital-intensive endeavours of the 19th century, the establishment of the rail network in Switzerland by Alfred Escher. He couldn’t get it funded, so he founded a consortium that became Credit Suisse.
“From that beginning, the essence of connectivity to entrepreneurs has dictated the strategy of the bank. If you want to do that in Asia, you need to be in a position to advise on both corporate assets and private assets, because wealth is entrepreneurial in this part of the world. By advising in the early stages and helping an entrepreneur to grow faster, we become meaningful very early on in the curve.” The ways in which the bank provides that advice have been changing rapidly for a while now, and Credit Suisse has been busy proactively embracing that digital future.
“It is absolutely clear that technology is going to dictate the way people consume services,” says Monnet. “So you have only one question to ask yourself: are you going to be disruptive or are you going to be disrupted? At Credit Suisse, we have taken the view for quite some years to embrace disruption. We launched our digital private banking in 2015, we have continuously enhanced the ability to get advice and trade on your phone, and we have added other means of connectivity like Credit Suisse Chat.”
The move towards greater digitalisation, of course, has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Last year, the bank ran 65 webinars in Asia-Pacific, attracting 16,000 attendees, as well as podcasts and videos, and saw the volume of business undertaken by its digital private bank multiply by four times.
Just as the bank has retooled itself to face the digital future, it has also taken dramatic action to combat the greatest challenge of our time—the climate crisis.
“Let’s agree we have very little time left for saving the planet,” says Monnet.“How does that translate into a business imperative? At Credit Suisse, we have a road map to become a pioneer in the context of ESG and sustainability.
“We don’t need to oppose returns and sustainability investing; they go hand in hand. We have the evidence that the returns are not inferior and are quite often superior, because they capture the new opportunities.”
Credit Suisse’s commitment to sustainability has included launching a series of structural improvements to position the bank even more strongly in the space. It established a dedicated Sustainability, Research and Investment Solutions (SRI) unit, which is committed to providing at least CHF300 billion (approx. US$330.5 billion) worth of sustainable financing over the next 10 years. The bank also continues to expand its ESG product suite in equity and fixed income funds, recently adding Asian ESG funds alongside the current suite of ESG funds. In 2020, it also launched its second impact fund in partnership with UOBVM, the private equity arm of Singaporean bank UOB.
This strategic decision, says Monnet, involves a commitment to no longer financing companies that do not meet its ESG standards. “Sustainability and ESG criteria are key considerations in our decision making process. We strongly believe that this is going to define an identity and be a differentiated strategy versus all the other banks.”
When it comes to its foresight regarding such strategic decisions, Credit Suisse has some history it can point to. Notably, its strategy of investing heavily in offering onshore services around Asia has paid off in spades. The bank has the largest and most diverse onshore footprint of any international bank in the region, says Monnet.
“We’re onshore not only in Hong Kong and Singapore, but in China, Australia, Thailand, Japan. It has been an effort of 15 years, and now it’s very visibly bearing fruit.
“Wealth is domestic, so how are you going to capture domestic wealth without going onshore? The idea is to go onshore with the right mindset. A lot of people are going onshore with an offshore mentality; in reality, client and competition, product offerings and platforms look completely different onshore. We see it as an opportunity to deepen our relevance in terms of client services and to offer a broader range of solutions to our clients.” Spoken like a true entrepreneur.