We caught up with Melanie Griffiths, Equiom’s Head of Client Solutions - Private Wealth to discuss her professional background and how the pandemic has impacted private clients and their priorities.
What is your professional background and why did you choose private wealth?
I started my career at Deloitte before joining J.P. Morgan where I spent 15 years, mostly in the private bank, advising private clients on all aspects of their wealth. The world of private clients requires an intricate balance between rational decisions and emotional responses - to succeed in this space you need equal measures of IQ and EQ. Wealth is a lever - it can do good or bad on a greater scale and with it comes great responsibilities and challenges. As an advisor, it is important to understand not just the financial, economic and legal ramifications of the choices clients face, but also how it impacts on their sense of identity and the wider family. It is the psychology of wealth and the privilege of earning clients’ trust that has made me dedicate my career to private clients.
What is at the top of your clients’ agendas at the moment?
We deal with families first and foremost and the ambitions and concerns are the same as that of most families - how can I best protect my family and ensure each member of my family thrives? In the early days of the pandemic, we saw a sense of urgency around dealing with one's mortality and the focus was very much on succession planning. With a ‘post Covid’ world in sight, the focus has now shifted to adapting to the new normal, whatever that might be. Our clients are asking themselves the same questions as many other families: am I living in the right setting going forward? Do I need to adapt my business, investments or sources of income in light of the major systemic shifts? What is the next crisis looming and what is my impact on the world?
In what ways has the pandemic affected trends and behaviours in private wealth?
Like all of us, clients have spent more time at home and have had time to focus on their private affairs, revisiting existing arrangements and exploring new opportunities. Our clients have the means to relocate and are considering where they want their family to be based in a post Covid world. They are taking into account things like medical infrastructure, proximity to family, political and fiscal stability etc. Moving a family is always complex and requires careful planning. Lastly, with everything moving online and restrictions on freedom, we are seeing more concerns around cybersecurity and data protection.
Any predictions for the rest of the year?
With the end of the health crisis seemingly in sight, all eyes will be on how governments around the world balance paying for the crisis, kick-starting their fragile economies, managing the social divides amplified by the response to the pandemic, and, in the UK Governments' words: ‘building back better’. All eyes will be on taxation, fiscal and monetary policies and regulation. With the closure of so many physical stores and ensuing loss of local tax revenue, I expect governments to focus their attention on global businesses and citizens with a heightened focus on ‘economic substance’.
Lastly, I expect the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) space to become the subject of increased regulation, or strong guidance at least, which will impact all aspects of the financial industry and ultimately, investment performance. Our role is to safeguard wealth for the long term, working at the intersection of families, professional advisors, and investment managers. On the one hand, we are seeing ESG as a unifying factor across generations, providing a natural anchor to engage the younger generation and contribute in steering the direction of the family’s wealth. On the other, we are seeing investment managers adapt to the changing landscape, sometimes with one investment manager’s top ESG pick being on another’s list of ‘excluded’ companies as per their ESG criteria. The rapid developments in this space, the lack of universally agreed benchmarks and the differing approaches are leaving clients wary of ‘green washing’ and ‘virtue signalling’. As fiduciaries safeguarding very significant amounts of funds managed by investment managers, we are overseeing managers and having regular dialogue with them, seeing their thinking and approach to ESG evolve along with regulatory and industry developments. As a fiduciary, we are in a unique position to impartially assist families to navigate the evolving ESG landscape, balancing the interests of all parties and keeping the focus on long term interest.