SG Kleinwort Hambros Bank Limited – Jersey Branch manager Phil McIlwraith tells Emily Moore why the ‘200-year-old start-up’ recently won the CI Wealth Briefing Credit Provider award and how it is embracing modern technology while building on its heritage to benefit both customers and the local community
WHEN your business has been operating successfully for more than 200 years, it can, as SG Kleinwort Hambros Jersey Branch manager Phil McIlwraith acknowledges, be only too easy to apply ‘a more of the same mentality’ when thinking about strategy.
But while determined to uphold the business’s long-standing core values, Mr McIlwraith is also resolute that ‘just doing more of the same’ is not the answer.
‘Such an approach implies complacency and doesn’t sit well alongside our ambitions to be a leading responsible bank,’ he explained. ‘It is true that the core of the business has not changed over those two centuries. Our client relationships are as important today as they have ever been and our clients still want the same level of service they have always received and access to the people they are working with to help them achieve their objectives.
‘However, as a growing business, we want to keep evolving the ways in which we meet clients’ needs, satisfy our stakeholders, support our colleagues and benefit the wider community.’
It is for this reason that the business, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in the Channel Islands last year, is often described as a ‘200-year-old start-up’, referring to the length of time that its parent organisations have been in existence.
‘We are in the fortunate position of having a tremendous legacy and heritage but, to deliver our goal of simplifying our clients’ financial challenges, we are constantly trying to transform and innovate our services,’ explained Head of the Client Solutions Group Delyth Richards.
Driving this service and innovation is the company’s Four Cs framework – clients, colleagues, community and climate.
‘These pillars represent our values as a leading responsible bank and also shape our strategy towards everything from staff wellbeing and engagement, diversity and inclusion, to client communication, lending and responsible investment,’ Ms Richards added.
‘As part of the Société Générale Group, we are bound by certain exclusions and commitments when it comes to investments but our approach to delivering responsible portfolios extends beyond that and, while we don’t profess to have the perfect solution, we can show every client both the carbon impact and the ESG score of their investment portfolio.’
Blending these considerations with ‘their fiduciary responsibilities to meet clients’ financial objectives’, the company builds portfolios by selecting funds and instruments which achieve ‘best in class’ ESG ratings.
And while climate concerns often propel the environmental category of ESG into the spotlight, Kleinwort Hambros’s focus is just as much on the social and governance pillars.
‘Naturally, environmental concerns are significant and if we are to achieve the end goal of net zero, a lot more work and consolidated effort is needed across the industry,’ added Ms Richards. ‘Impact investing is one way of achieving this, and we are working in partnership with third-party funds to identify investments, such as technology or low-carbon, which aim to support the environment.
‘But we are also very conscious of social and governance issues. Not only are these important to Kleinwort Hambros, which focuses strongly on topics such as gender parity and closing any gender pay gaps, but the ESG ratings by which we make investment decisions also reflect companies’ performance areas such as the gender make up of a company’s board and the pay gap between the chief executive and other team members.’
Topics such as these are, as Mr McIlwraith recognises, key to creating a culture which promotes strong staff wellbeing and engagement – and which also helps to address one of the key issues facing not just Kleinwort Hambros but the industry as a whole.
‘I think one of the greatest challenges facing many businesses is the recruitment and retention of staff,’ he said. ‘There are often more vacancies than applicants, and we all need to challenge ourselves to identify why that is. Young people leaving school or university now have a lot of career options to choose between and, as an industry, we need to promote ourselves and not only show the great career paths available but also support students so that, as they progress through school, they feel equipped and motivated for a career in finance.’
With the Covid pandemic and climate concerns having changed many people’s priorities, Mr McIlwraith is quick to acknowledge the role that a company’s culture plays in recruiting and retaining staff.
‘Staff engagement is critical to any business and we do a lot of work in this area,’ he said. ‘Interestingly, when you look at the eight areas into which our staff feedback is broken down, only one area covers remuneration. The other factors which can motivate or demotivate someone include leadership and communication, wellbeing and the way in which the organisation supports them. It is really important to our staff that we allow opportunity for them to give back to their communities.’
And this community support is an area in which the business has recently increased its focus.
Not only do all staff receive 24 paid hours a year to volunteer but the business has partnered with GROW in Guernsey and Jersey Women’s Refuge, both to raise money for the organisations and to understand their needs.
But while such community endeavours may have increased Kleinwort Hambros’ prominence in the local marketplace, Mr McIlwraith stresses that this is not the key goal.
‘Last year was a milestone year for the business and it gave us an opportunity to pause, reflect and celebrate our achievements,’ he said. ‘In doing that, we have looked at the history of the business and also considered where we want to go and how we see the future. Naturally, a lot of that future is shaped by the past and our legacy and framework. Over the past couple of years, we have really focused on our infrastructure and on ensuring that we have the right foundations in place to move forward. Now, we are in a great position do that and one of the things we want to build on is our role in the community in ways which have a positive impact. In doing that, our profile may rise but it is the impact which is the priority.’
And charities are not the only area in which the firm is keen to make an impact.
‘We have also done a lot of work to raise awareness about the impacts of the menopause,’ added Mr McIlwraith. ‘This is undoubtedly an important topic and by addressing this area, we have created a culture shift within the workplace so that those traditionally more challenging conversations are now a lot more normal. Whether the topic is the menopause or mental health, fostering that open dialogue has really helped staff to feel more connected and supported, which is so important.’
It is also a move which is indicative of the firm’s innovative culture, something which Mr McIlwraith said was also appreciated by clients.
‘It can be difficult to be objective about your own performance but, at an event to celebrate our 60th anniversary, one of our long-standing clients said: “It is normal at events like this for clients to assume that you are entitled to be here but I would like to thank Kleinwort Hambros not just for hosting this event but also for the long relationship I’ve had with them. From my point of view, as a client, Kleinwort Hambros has stayed true to its values but has also moved with the times”.
‘This was so gratifying to hear because it recognised not only our history, longevity and the values we retain but also demonstrated that whether you are looking at our approach to responsible investing or our digital communication tools, we haven’t stood still,’ said Mr McIlwraith.
It was probably a combination of these factors which also saw the bank crown its anniversary year with two CI Wealth Briefing awards – Private Bank Employer of the Year and Credit Provider.
‘This is the first year that Wealth Briefing has run specific awards for the Channel Islands and it is really pleasing to have been recognised,’ said Mr McIlwraith. ‘This objective recognition of the work we can do for our clients, our local presence and expertise is a testament to the whole team. Having seen huge changes in the industry over our 60 years in the Channel Islands, we are still here, supporting our clients and the local community and are looking forward to building on this in the years ahead.’