Bank CEO travels full circle to find true calling

Wanderlust led Evrard Bordier to work in many countries before running family-run bank

Mr Evrard Bordier chose to make most of the walls in the Bordier & Cie office out of glass to reflect his view that private banking will become more transparent.
Mr Evrard Bordier chose to make most of the walls in the Bordier & Cie office out of glass to reflect his view that private banking will become more transparent. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Given that his family name is displayed at the bank's entrance, you might think that Mr Evrard Bordier always knew he was destined to be a leading figure at private bank Bordier & Cie.

But, in fact, the 47-year-old took a rather circuitous path to his current role as one of four partners at the Swiss bank, which has been run by his family for five generations.

Instead of going into banking early on, he chose to study law in the Fribourg canton of Switzerland. He felt the law permeated all aspects of life, and would allow him to meet many people.

But legal work turned out not to be his cup of tea after all, as it was largely desk bound.

And his qualifications gave him access only to local law jobs in Switzerland, whereas he really wanted a career allowing him to travel - and work - abroad.

That was when a friend casually pointed out over a cup of coffee that broker skills could be applied in many countries. He liked the idea, and decided to become a broker in another part of the world.

"It's always like this, a life-changing moment happens that would not have happened if not for this stupid coffee you're having," he says. Taking a leap of faith, he flew to Hong Kong in 1994 aged 26 without a job.

Within three weeks, he found work as a broker with Nomura Securities. After two years at Nomura, he moved to Swiss Bank Corp in Singapore and held the role of adviser to private banking clients, among others, during his time there.

The bank soon merged with Swiss private banking giant, UBS, and he ended up back home in Switzerland in 1998. He was asked to go to Zurich where he took on roles such as chief of staff for the financial planning and wealth management business division.

In 1999, his father asked him if he wanted to take over a bank in Turks & Caicos Islands, a British overseas territory near the Bahamas. He agreed, leaving UBS and gradually buying 100 per cent of that bank. From London, he managed the bank as president of its board of directors, and still remains as its president today.

Around 2010, his brother approached him to lead Bordier & Cie's expansion into Asia, because of his experience of doing similar work and his experience in Asia.

Excited by the challenge to apply for a banking licence, set up an institution from scratch, and be in Asia, a place he loved, he agreed, and became the chief executive of Bordier & Cie Singapore.

He moved to the Republic with his family in August 2010 and has been here ever since.

The father of three - a daughter, 15, and two sons aged 13 and 11 - also has an artistic side.

Architecture and interior design are among Mr Bordier's hobbies, and he had a very strong say in the design of his bank's new office, located at CapitaGreen in the Central Business District.

He chose to make most of the walls in the office out of glass to reflect his view that private banking, an industry long known for its secrecy, will become more transparent. Already, new standards are set to take effect in Singapore around 2018 that require private banks here to inform some foreign governments of how much their citizens have deposited with the bank, he noted. "The future will be a transparent one... There is no secrecy about being with us, you should be proud to be with us, that's what we're trying to convey (with our office design)," he said.

Mr Bordier's experiences around the world have helped him "better understand why people act the way they act" and empathise with them. And, in turn, he feels that his job at Border & Cie adds to his own knowledge of the world. "You learn from people, how they live, and you can grow yourself, " he says.

Mr Bordier said the bank expanded into Asia because of the region's immense growth potential and because many of its clients had moved to Asia. It expects China to "become the next United States of America".

He also said that Bordier & Cie Singapore operates under a different model from some other banks here. Clients pay Bordier & Cie an annual relationship fee in exchange for its services. This is unlike other banks, which do not charge private bank clients such fees but earn commissions on products sold to consumers.

Mr Bordier said the fee forces the bank to do its best to create value. "For this fee, we have to bring you value, because if we don't bring you value then you should leave us." The fee also reduced pressure on the bank to market products to its customers just for the sake of commissions, he said.

The bank also seeks to provide advice to its clients on other personal finance matters, Mr Bordier said.

"We want to be the trusted adviser, like in the old days, the family doctor. You want the client to come to you and say, 'Hey, I want to buy a piece of property in London, can you help me?'. We will help him but we will not make money out of it."

He adds that another edge of the bank is its small size, which means clients have access to senior bankers, including himself, the owner of the bank.

Mr Bordier declined to give the amount of assets under management at the bank, but said he was confident in growing that amount. He added that he intends to grow his staff head count from around 35 at the present to 75, which is the capacity of his current office.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline Bank CEO Evrard Bordier travels full circle to find true calling. Subscribe