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An Exclusive Interview with Eric G. Sarasin, Chair of TIGER21 Switzerland: Banking Legacy, Philanthropy, and the Future of Finance

13 October 2023

An Exclusive Interview with Eric G. Sarasin, Chair of TIGER21 Switzerland: Banking Legacy, Philanthropy, and the Future of Finance

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With roots tracing back to the illustrious Sarasin family, who played pivotal roles in shaping Switzerland's banking history, Eric Sarasin carries forward a rich heritage that intertwines entrepreneurship, wealth management, and private banking. In this exclusive interview, we dive deep into Eric Sarasin's insights and experiences, exploring his views on the past, present, and future of banking, as well as his unique journey from the world of international banking to entrepreneurship and private equity investments.

As we uncover the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that Mr. Sarasin graciously shares, we'll explore the changing landscape of private banking, the potential of digitalization and new technologies within the financial sector, and the fusion of philanthropy and business interests in areas such as health, culture, and human rights. With Mr. Sarasin's extensive experience in family offices, we'll also gather valuable advice for entrepreneurial families on legacy planning and generational transitions.

The Sarasin family has a rich history in the banking industry. How has this legacy shaped your views on finance, wealth management, and private banking?

Looking back at the founding year, 1841, my ancestors were more merchant bankers, as the term “private banker” did not exist back then. We were entrepreneurs, financing the infrastructure in Switzerland (Hydorelectric plants, Railway system, etc.). This DNA has stayed with me, looking at finance and wealth management always with the eyes of an entrepreneur. This means on one hand preserving and taking care of our client’s wealth foremost. Then having a trusted and personal relationship with your clients and understanding their risk tolerance. Private Banking today has lost this aspect in many institutions, and the moral and ethical components are gone. Having spent almost 30 years in our Bank, this was always my mantra in all aspects of banking.

How has the role of private banking evolved over the last few decades, and where do you see its future, especially in hubs like Switzerland?

The role of the private banker has evolved in a rather negative way in the last decades. Today for a private banker, the clients are a means for them (and their respective Banks) to make money. This is the main priority. The client is no more in the center of their activities. In addition, regulation and compliance take up most of the time for a private banker, which leaves little time to really take care of the client’s needs. In Switzerland it is not different than in other countries although there are a few private Banks that try hard to give the client the proper service and do not push their own funds or structured products on to the client. Therefore, the choice of a bank or independent asset manager needs to be taken with great prudence and diligence.

After a long and successful tenure in the banking sector, what motivated your shift towards entrepreneurship and private equity investments?

First and foremost, our part-owner in 2012, Rabobank, decided to sell us, as they lost a lot of money in the subprime mortgage market. They sold us then to the Safra family of Brazil. After integrating the two Banks (Safra and Sarasin) as deputy CEO, I left the Bank on my own will in 2014 and decided to go back to the roots of our family, being an entrepreneur. I decided to do that via private equity investments concentrating on the digital transformation and new technologies generally (AI, Crypto). I have today 12 PE investments which I manage myself. I think the timing for a “shift” could not have been better!

Given your focus on digitalization and new technologies, where do you see the biggest growth potential in the coming years, especially within the financial sector?

I am a great fan of the technological revolution we are witnessing in many sectors of the economy. The concept of Singularity, i.e. that artificial intelligence will take over the human brain by about 2045, is an indication that the world will change. Some industries will benefit from this, some not (or will disappear). I see the biggest growth potential in consumer goods, services, manufacturing and finance. Within the financial sector, I believe many Bank’s services will become commodities, and the margins will drop. Fintech will take over, but in private banking the trusted relationship for wealthy individuals will prevail which will not be the case in retail. The Roboadvisor will take an important role in retail, and the work efficiency will increase within large money center banks. There will be further consolidation in the financial sector worldwide.

Your active involvement in philanthropy is commendable. How do you align your philanthropic endeavours with your business interests, especially in areas like health, culture, and human rights?

Philanthropic engagements have always been in our DNA. In our bank, the partners spent 20-25% of our time in giving back to society. My philanthropic endeavors are often combined with my business interests, as I have certain personal criteria under which I eliminate investments. Culture and human rights are part of my decisions when investing, as one does not exclude the other. You should be able to invest in a company or start-up that does good for the environment or humans.

With your vast experience in family offices, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurial families on legacy planning and generational transition?

This is exactly what I do as chair of TIGER21 in Zurich ( : Coach and advice individuals in questions of financial planning and succession. I cannot summarize this activity to one single advice, as there are many factors to take into consideration, and each individual has a different history or family legacy to take into consideration. The key points are: listen to others (take a trusted advisor), make wise decision, and communication well and clearly within your family.

How do you see Switzerland's future as a financial center, and what role does Switzerland play in wealth management for High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI)?

  • The Swiss financial centre is stable and intact.

  • The events of the last 12 months have left a lasting impression on all banks.

  • With UBS, Switzerland now has a bank that is no longer "too big to fail", but "too big to be rescured". This will have to be solved in the foreseeable future.

  • The top priority is to create confidence in the financial center, as the "backbone" of the Swiss economy.

  • The Swiss franc should not be forgotten - as a strength.

  • Investment banking is dead in Switzerland!

  • The regulator is overwhelmed and fails when necessary.

  • Wealth management is the main activity that underpins the financial center. "Back to the roots", so to speak.

  • Alternative asset classes are becoming an increasingly important part of asset allocation. In particular: private equity, venture capital and cryptocurrencies or blockchain models.

  • Strong growth in Switzerland of "family offices". Today, around 400 and growing. Reasons: personnel, taxes, political stability, quality of life.

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