People

Private banker's 'love affair' still going strong

Mr Torsten Linke's took to banking in 1985 with an apprenticeship at Deutsche, which he enjoyed so much he decided not to pursue a university degree but instead develop his banking chops through the bank's "high potentials" development programme. He
Mr Torsten Linke's took to banking in 1985 with an apprenticeship at Deutsche, which he enjoyed so much he decided not to pursue a university degree but instead develop his banking chops through the bank's "high potentials" development programme. He moved to Julius Baer last year, after 24 years with Deutsche and a further seven with Standard Chartered.ST PHOTO: DAVE LIM

Julius Baer's S-E Asia head relishes the challenges his role offers

Right after his A levels, the young Torsten Linke toyed with the idea of becoming a journalist.

But he eventually he took up an apprenticeship at Deutsche Bank in Hamburg - and has not looked back since.

Now the head of South-east Asia private banking at Julius Baer, Mr Linke, 53, has chalked up some three decades of experience in finance, in a career that has taken him from his homeland Germany to London and Singapore.

But when the Singapore PR enthuses about his favourite part of the job, one could almost mistake him for a journalist.

"You meet so many interesting people, you meet characters in the bank and also on the client side - my goodness, the people you meet and talk to!"

So no regrets at all that he gave up a potential career in journalism for the lofty world of high finance?

"No. Sometimes, bankers tell me that they wouldn't encourage their children to become bankers too, and I ask them why? It's a more demanding job these days that requires a lot more multi-tasking, but it's still a fantastic job," he says.

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

Timing and luck play a big role in your career and you have to be the right place and right time sometimes, and I think sometimes people underestimate those elements.

MR TORSTEN LINKE

The love affair began in 1985 with that apprenticeship at Deutsche, which he enjoyed so much he decided not to pursue a university degree but instead develop his banking chops through the bank's "high potentials" development programme.

At the time, private banking did not exist in Germany, he notes.

"But I was lucky to be a part of the start of private banking in Germany. In the early 1990s, the bank decided to segregate clients into a new private banking division and I was lucky enough to work at the head office in Frankfurt for five years."

After those five years, he wanted to do more client-facing work, and moved to London in 1995, where he helped to set up Deutsche's private banking office from scratch.

That was also where he first came in contact with Asia, he says, as London was the booking centre for Asian clients.

After regular trips here, he moved to Singapore in 2001, when the bank needed someone to manage the local office. He continued working for Deutsche in Singapore for nine years, but then moved to Standard Chartered in 2009 to be its market manager for Indonesia, based out of Singapore.

Still, he looks back at his 24 years at Deutsche with gratitude.

"I stayed at Deutsche for so long because it was always different - different roles, different locations and I got to attend a lot of great courses, even earned an MBA through the bank. But after so long it was time for a new challenge."

And last year, he joined Julius Baer - another new challenge.

"I'd never been with a pure play private bank, and I wanted to experience that. And I liked the story at Julius Baer. Especially after the Merrill Lynch acquisition, it had become much more visible in Asia and the brand was starting to be more recognisable."

In 2012, Julius Baer bought the international wealth management business of Merrill Lynch, which had decided to focus on its home market of the United States.

While he is still energised about the industry, Mr Linke notes that a lot has changed since he first started out.

"Regulations have changed a lot over the last seven years or so, especially in the last two years. That's been a big challenge for relationship managers (RMs)," he notes.

"A lot of RMs are very good with clients and investments but now they have to get used to also doing things like paperwork and client profiling to comply with anti-money laundering rules - a lot of governance and risk control functions."

But some changes that the private banking industry is witnessing are more exciting.

For example, client mindsets and preferences are evolving, which is forcing banks to adapt and change the way they serve the Asian market, Mr Linke says.

"In Asia, you had the first generation, the ones who made the money, and now we're starting to serve the second generation and their behaviour is very different from their parents'," he says.

"They would expect, for instance, much more digital capabilities - they take it for granted that you have them. And they are also more willing to let the bank manage their investments, as opposed to the first generation, which was very hands-on."

With increased scrutiny and paperwork in the industry, clients are also streamlining their private banking wallets. Where previously wealthy individuals might spread their money across several banks, they now prefer to consolidate their funds into just one or two accounts, Mr Linke notes.

As a pure private bank, Julius Baer does not offer services such as investment and corporate banking, which universal banks do, he adds.

Its competitive edge is in providing really sound advice for protecting and growing personal wealth.

"Increasingly, especially with the second generation taking over, clients want a separation between their corporate and personal accounts," he says.

"They feel more comfortable having someone managing just their personal affairs, including wealth planning and succession planning."

The bank is in a good position - it is the fifth-largest private bank in Asia, excluding China, based on assets under management and in its 100-year-plus history has never reported a loss.

Still, the father of three daughters aged between 15 and 20 seems humbled by the role he has today.

Even looking back on such an illustrious career, he says he cannot take full credit for his successes.

"This is the biggest responsibility I've had in my career. Timing and luck play a big role in your career and you have to be the right place and right time sometimes, and I think sometimes people underestimate those elements."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Private banker's 'love affair' still going strong'. Print Edition | Subscribe