Private banks urgently need to be able to offer a truly tailored customer experience. A group of students recommend a client-centric approach.

July 17, 2017 •

4 min reading

Client-Centric Insights in Private Banking

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Nearly one in five of all Swiss business students aims for a career in banking. In fact, banking is the second most preferred choice by recent graduates in Switzerland after fast-moving consumer goods. When asked about their most favorite employers in the country, banks often come in the top five rankings among business students. The same rings true for hospitality management schools. For example, a good number of our students at Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne also regard the Swiss banking industry as an attractive career option.


Here at EHL, we have been exploring if there is a way of combining the strengths of the hospitality industry with those of the banking industry, in particular, Swiss private banking. As in hospitality, private banking focuses strongly on relationship management and being able to anticipate customers’ needs. As Sherif Mamdouh reports in the latest edition of EHL Hospitality Insights, the industry is beginning to realize the relevance of incorporating a more hospitality-focused approach in the way they do business. He interviews Rothschild Bank CEO Laurent Gagnebin, who is convinced his EHL education and experience in hospitality, are helping his bank develop a client-focus which is essential in private banking and commonplace in hotels. “It’s not just (about) the client adviser. It’s about the premises, the flowers, the branded items you receive as a guest … It’s all these touch points,” Gagnebin says.

In the spirit of exploring the possible impact of hospitality on Swiss private banking, students from my undergraduate Corporate Strategy class discussed the issues and challenges facing the industry. The students were exposed to first-hand testimony and relevant data portraying how private banking has evolved in Switzerland for the past ten years.

We conducted a contest among the students, with eight groups of five students working on the task in hand during a three-hour class. Equipped with a broad overview of private banking in Switzerland, we asked the students to analyze the industry’s strengths and weaknesses, and propose value drivers from the hospitality industry that could become opportunities for private banking in Switzerland.

Students were also asked to generate two scenarios showing how the introduction of hospitality value drivers in Swiss private banking could unfold over time. In so doing, students were asked to apply what they have learned in the first sessions of this course: how to perform industry analysis, identify value drivers, and forecast their impact on industry performance.

In class, we have discussed these topics with a strong focus on the hospitality industry. With this activity, the challenge was for students to be able to understand and generate ideas that could potentially bring competitive advantage to private banking. The task was not easy but after almost three hours of group discussions, each team gave a brief presentation of their analysis, along with key recommendations.

While it was not easy to choose one group of winners – as most of the recommendations went well beyond our expectations – we selected customer-centric recommendations made by final-year students Marlene Baumann, Natalia Edwards, Joe Müller, and Soizic Vernet as the most insightful.  

Students discussing the future of Swiss banking at EHL




Customized service and technology


Most of the students  recognized that private banks urgently need to be able to offer a truly tailored customer experience. They argued that having relationship managers and online banking tools are no longer differentiating factors, in particular when it comes to wealthy millennials and high net worth customers. Their recommendations ranged from having concierges providing a unique service experience to high net worth individuals, to investing in corporate social responsibility initiatives that appeal to millennials.

As for implementing these recommendations, this is where the hospitality touch kicks in:

  • having a concierge who gets to know the customer and foresees her needs,
  • offering online services with face-to-face and flexible elements at the discretion of the customer, and
  • incorporating customer feedback in an agile way.

Moreover, the students agreed that wealthy millennials are among the most interesting and misunderstood market segments for private banking. To develop brand loyalty among these individuals, students suggested banks engage in, and showcase, their CSR initiatives.

Consumption behavior trends have shown that wealthy millennials are conscious consumers who often favor offerings and organizations that are engaged with society. For our students, these initiatives would make private banking more attractive to this important segment of the market.  

The winning group also acknowledged that personalized service at a private bank in Switzerland could be better customized by recognizing that customers are multi-faceted: some may be hoping for a personalized relationship with their asset manager, while others prefer a flexible and more autonomous experience through digital services. For example, a young wealthy customer may value her time and autonomy, and therefore favor the bank’s online services. However, she can also enjoy a concierge-type of dedicated service on specific occasions, as and when she requires this. 

Professional Advice  Service Excellence  Are you looking for professional advice on implementing a service culture  throughout your company? Our experts are here to help!  Learn moreThe students also suggested that customers could alternate between these two modes – ‘high-tech’ vs ‘high-touch’ – by indicating their preferred service type via a slide-bar on the bank’s website. Through this tool, customers would have the opportunity to move the cursor in one direction if they want a technology-based service, or to another direction to meet with their asset manager in person. This scenario bolsters the hospitality concept of the concierge who takes care of the customer’s needs. In this way, the customer would be able to set up meetings with their asset manager or simply execute transactions online.

While implementing these recommendations might present operational challenges for private banking in practice, our students proved creative, innovative, and flexible in applying their knowledge to the Swiss private banking industry. Their strong focus on the client and their hospitality background in anticipating customers’ wants and needs, makes them ideal candidates to initiate novel ideas for the banking sector and other service-based industries.  

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Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship at EHL

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