Bankers are managing the money of individuals; bankers never showcase they are wrong; bankers look like they know their business. That's what we hope as we trust our money with them.
Last year in Geneva, I met Frederick Kermisch, a coach for private bankers, and I became curious. Finally, we found the time to ask him some serious questions, to understand the world of Bankers and why they need a coach.
Let's find out if our money is safe or if the bankers are ticking timebombs.
Welcome Frederick on the “We The Business” podcast. Let me start with the most straightforward question:
Do you agree or not with the definition of coaching, that coaching is helping to improve people’s performance by helping them to learn?
Very much. I think it’s really fundamental to help people become more autonomous.
Another advantage, it gives people more ownership over what they’re doing.
What we really want when we coach people, is helping people to be capable of giving their best when they are in the situation without having to rely on any form of support.
I keep on thinking of the image of being a tennis coach:
A tennis coach is helping to prepare the player for the match, but the person is on his own during the match and you want them to give the best performance.
It’s helping them to learn, helping them to grow and finding what works. The real test is, "is there any tangible change?
If there is, something is working out. If there isn’t, we probably have to re-think the approach.
When I think of bankers, because we trust them with money, I hope they know their job, to keep privacy high, how does it work when they work with a coach like you? Do you get some crazy secret insights?
When I work with bankers, I don’t want to know who the clients are. A banker will say, “My client is an entrepreneur in the mid-50s”.. They give me a little bit background information related to the situation, their goals, and what’s blocking”. That’s what I need to know.
I don’t need to know if the client is someone famous, someone not famous.
I’ve never Googled a person, I don’t want to receive enough information to be able to find the person, even if I wanted to. Some bankers, in other jurisdictions, they just go, “Oh I’m trying to approach this person,” and most of the time I’ve never heard of them. But in my work, I don't care if the person is famous or not.
What really matters is, can the banker improve the approach to the person, improve the interactions, have better conversations, have better dialogues, understand what the person needs, is there anything they can offer, it’s very personal, but beyond the public figure or beyond the name. It’s really about the psychology of the person and how the person is thinking and making decisions.
As I’m living in Switzerland, is our privacy guaranteed when I want to talk to you?
Oh absolutely. It happens that bankers contact me and say, “I need help, I’m stuck, I need to raise assets, my employer’s putting pressure on me and is not offering me any support.
They take ownership over their career, they have to work things out. If they are not doing it, they lose their job.
Bankers contact me and say, “my employer doesn’t know, I don’t want my employer to find out because I’m nervous about how they’d react to it. I’m really in this sort of paranoid mode of no information, nothing being recorded, any notes or anything like that.
Even when somebody listens to the conversations, there’d be nothing in there where the banker would be in a situation that’s difficult or dangerous.
It’s actually quite fun as it doesn’t change my work. We view people as individuals which means when bankers view them as individuals, the relationship improves because we just view them as human beings instead of viewing them as a public figures - and that’s a huge part of the work that really leads to much better results.
How should we see bankers? As entrepreneurs? As employees? Or typical pure salespeople?
That’s a very interesting question and you will find all sorts. If someone is working for a large corporation, one of the bigger banks, they will generally have more of the employee mindset. They’re also treated more like employees, their compensation is often discretionary so regardless of the results there’s no real formula about how they get paid which induces also an employee mindset.
Possibly that’s what the employer wants because a banker who’s too autonomous might decide to leave with the clients. Of course the big banks, they’re looking for this balance where they’re providing the banker with access to clients, and making sure the banker doesn't leave with the clients.
What happens generally is, bankers will start in these large corporations, they have access to all of this money, they realize that a few things can happen if they change.
If they go to a smaller bank, they can earn more money. That’s a huge part of the motivation. It’s one of the worst reasons to do it because the second part is if they can’t offer something that’s more relevant to the clients, the clients probably won’t follow them, and that happens so often.
I’ve seen multiple bankers leave the large corporation, thinking, “I’ve had amazing results, I assume it’s all because of me or a big part of it, so if I leave, the clients will follow”, and then the clients don’t follow. With the result, the banker revert back to the employee mindset of trying to please the boss, finding excuses, coming up with, you know, new potential avenues.
When bankers switch banks, they arrive with a whole list of prospects, and after a few months they suddenly talk about the new hot prospects they can have, and you thnk, well if you’re fishing for new hot prospects and no one from your existing client list has followed you, that's is a pretty bad sign
if your hit ratio was zero, that should be telling you something.
What really works nicely is when a banker has the entrepreneurial mindset, views him or herself as a business unit that should be profitable, that should be able to offer something of value to their clients, and understand what it takes to offer something that’s valuable, generate enough revenue, get their compensation.
I see quite often people who are stuck, big part of the problem is the employee mindset, where they’re used to doing what they’re asked to do, it’s not working and now they have the responsibility of it not working. And it’s a bit schizophrenic.
You have the responsibility but you’re not given the tools, you never learned how to do it, and this is one of the strange things.
I work with people whose clients are ultra high net worths, the millionaires, billionaires. When dealing with a multi-millionaire, it can be a bit daunting if you’re not a multi-millionaire yourself, and most of us are not multi-millionaires. We tend to fall back into specific psychological roles and games that are not conducive to healthy conversations, are not conducive to understanding what people need and are not conducive to running a healthy business. Getting people to shift from this employee mindset to the entrepreneurial mindset is fundamental.
You mentioned the last point, are they salespeople - it depends on what we mean by salespeople. Some are the typical salespeople who are very pushy, who think that if they can talk enough, show up, maybe something will work out. They only say “Let me tell you why our company is amazing.”
They talk about how amazing their company is, about themselves for hours. They walk out of the meeting, thinking, “that was a great meeting ‘cause I said everything I had to say”. Then they’re surprised that it doesn’t lead anywhere. That’s part of the mindset to change.
I see bankers that don’t want to be these annoying pushy salespeople because it’s not them, and usually their existing client base like them because it’s not them, but they don’t know how to guide a conversation without being pushy, and this is where I intervene, where we use the tools I have to simply have a conversation that isn’t pushy but puts them in control, allows them to be comfortable getting the convesations, gives them all the tools to understand what the clients want and need and what it would take for them to change bank. I showcase to have a conversations that feels natural
An Example: “Would it be a stupid idea to spend 10 minutes just reviewing it to make sure I understand what you really expect from me?” And of course everyone says, “Sounds like a great idea”. Meanwhile, based on the converstaion, we can then talk about opening accounts, increasing assets - you just need to know the tool, understand how to use it, and understand the mindset of the client.
But the results are just phenomenal.
Bankers are competing against other bankers, as long as the others have the employee mindset or are the pushy salespeople, or are afraid to talk, it’s easier to stand out and be so much better than the competition. It’s really easy and that’s the great news.
Frederik Van LierdeGoing a bit deeper into this point, because now we’re specifically talking about banking, there are so many more regulations and certain countries even more than in others, certainly Switzerland. Myeself, I’m more in e-commerce we have zero regulations, we just have to deliver the product.
Because we know that if you want to be successful in sales, it’s all about the connections. And so I thought this is probably one of the issues bankers have and that’s why they come to you. How can they create those connections without just telling what the bank wants them to tell. How far can they go? How far can you train them so they can go further? Or are you also blocked by special regulations?
Can bankers be creative in their sales process? Can they personalize the connection with their clients?
In this case, there’s not that much in terms regulations in terms of the conversation.
The regulation typically will be leading up to the moment when they sit down in front of the client - how they’re allowed to approach the client, what can they offer, what can they do, what can they say. A lot of that is the technical part. I focus really on the conversation between two individuals and preparing it, leading it, asking the right questions, working out the fear that people have of asking the wrong question, not being too pushy.
There, we have a lot of freedom because even if the banker’s boss wants them to do something during the presentation such as read out the slide show, the banker can decide to freestyle, they can.
Now why would they do that? Because they realize that reading out the slideshow doesn’t produce optimal results. They realize when it doesn’t work well or something else could work better. Even if it works well enough, they’re under pressure to raise more assets. Or they realize that they are managing a few hundred millions for someone but maybe there could be an extra 50 or 100 million that they have free to manage if you have the right conversation.
If there’s no downside to having that conversation, why not have it?
The big thing I focus on is to eliminate the downside to the conversation so there’s no reason not to have it. There’s actually a downside to not having the conversation and I help them focus on that - if you don’t do it, this is what’s going to happen. If you do do it, you have no risk, there’s only upside. Yes, it takes quite a bit of preparation to do it, to change their mindset, to understand the tools. Intake a few sessions before the people are ready and then it's all about practice.
Within the conversation with an individual client or prospect, there’s a lot of freedom to ask questions and how to lead the conversation. One of the first things I want people to do is break out of the “let me read you a slideshow” mindset, or “let me act like a little child who’s handing in the homework in front of a teacher and hoping to get a good grade”. Humans like us, clients, it’s not about the banker doing their homework; we expect they do their homework. If they don’t do their homework, it’s a problem.
I sometimes use this metaphor - if someone comes to you and says, “Hi I brushed my teeth,” you don’t say, “Wow, will you marry me?” But if they don’t, you’re not going to talk to them. It’s really the difference between the dealbreaker and a unique selling point.
Doing the homework is part of the basics. If they don’t do it, it’s a dealbreaker.
Coming up to the client and being proud that you did the basics and saying, “We’re amazing ‘cause we did the basics”, that will impress the wrong clients. Or the clients hear that from everyone, which is usually the case.
Can you give, without revealing the name of bankers and clients, an issue that they had, you coached them and afterwards they had success. Is it possible?
Sure. There are a few of them. One that comes to mind was a banker, who had switched banks, had difficulties raising more assets and was stuck. One of the issues though the banker had was : “How can I go back to my former clients after X many years and suddenly talk about them opening an account. it feels weird, it feels awkward.”
We worked together to figure out for what good reason could you have waited two or three years? We found a very valid reason, which made it really easy to call the people up and have this conversation: “Hey it’s been a long time, I switched banks, and now is the right time for me to call you because…”
All of the clients went, “I’m happy that you contacted me now, I didn’t realize that you had this plan but it makes perfect sense, so thank you.”
Some of them said, “You know we’re not in a position to make any change but let’s stay in touch.” Then my banker found out why they were not in a position to make a change - for some of them they actually were in a position to make a change but they hadn’t realized it and others said, ‘Well you know, we’ll touch base in six months or 12 months.” For others they said, “Well you know, why not. Why not have a meeting and have a chat and see what it is you’re doing and find out if you can provide anything, but you remember the stuff that I was frustrated with and I’m still frustrated with it, so yes let's have a chat .”
Part of the narrative, part of the process I have, how do we make it easier for people to call people up and feel really comfortable calling them, have a good story that is true, that makes sense - or more or less true in this case, the argument made sense, the only thing is he said, “Well this is the plan,” he didn’t tell them the plan was invented a week before, so it sounded like it had been a long-term plan.
Frederik Van Lietrde: That’s interesting because for me, bankers are like car dealers, they just tell you what they want to tell you and try to sell their products, their services. What I read is they they have the same problems as me as an entrepreneur.
Should I go back to my first clients that never came back to my e-commerce? The answer is yes, so it’s independent from the industry it seems.
At the end of the day, selling is simply about helping. If you can help someone and they buy the services from you, that’s a great outcome. If you can’t help them and they don’t buy it, that’s also a great outcome.
If the client buys from you but you can’t solve their problem, then that’s a terrible outcome. Those are going to be real problem clients and they’re going to be upset, understandably, and feel let down and abused.
In this case we focus the conversation on what are their needs, and can we do anything. With regular sales techniques, that I’ve seen time and time again, it’s very pushy, it’s focused on the outcome, it’s very much saying, “Look, what we’re doing is amazing,” and basically it’s very childish. It’s sort of saying, “I’m going to give you a lot of information, and I hope you’ll like something and if you don’t, maybe the problem is I haven’t given you enough information.”
An example: if you go to the dentist, the dentist doesn’t say, “Please try to work with me and this is great and look at the machines I have and the technology I have.” The dentist says, “Okay do you have a toothache?” And if you do, he will help you, if you tell the dentist “No, my elbow hurts,” the dentist doesn’t try to repair your teeth.
If you take this mindset and focus on the people and their needs, it changes the dynamic and then we can be curious and ask questions. Unfortunately, with bankers, there’s a lot of sales, there’s this hope, maybe - if only it works out it’ll be amazing.
Hope for sales is one of the worst drugs, one of the most potent drugs.
They’re blinded by it, instead of having the conversation qualifying or disqualifying that client, bankers go, “I want to tap in so badly that if I cross my fingers and I close my eyes, maybe something will work”. It doesn’t work that way, it really doesn’t. If it does anything, it turns people off, As soon as you can have the conversation, you feel comfortable having it, it’s eye-opening, and you can show that you genuinely care.
A banker spend so much time with them, looking after their money. It’s like the good family doctor, they want their clients to be healthy.
Good bankers want their clients to be healthy and wealthy and their money to be well-looked after - it’s the same mindset.
How do bankers define success and how is their view different from yours? Is there a difference?
There’s a huge difference. The way bankers usually define success for themselves first, is what is their level of compensation. For bankers that’s the absolute metric.
For me it’s a bit different, ofcourse compensation is one part, another part is to what extent are they in the process of optimizing their book of clients, to what extent are they in the process of optimizing their skillset.
If you remove all their clients, are they capable of starting over again? If they are, that’s pretty successful. It also means that the two usually go together. If you improve your skillset, you’ll be optimizing your book, better book = higher compensation.
If you’re managing $300 million, it seems like a lot of money, but if you could be managing $600 million, and the other $300 is right next to you and you’re not getting it, are you more successful than someone who’s managing $250 million, with a potential $300 million? No, you’re not.
You’re not because the money is right under your nose and you’re not getting it and that’s a huge game-changer.
First of all how have you optimized your portfolio based on the money that’s there. And then the other thing that people forget is clients take a combination of your time, of your energy, and sometimes your money. If you have, and this is a bit like art, the quality of a portfolio is the quality of the weakest work of art inside the portfolio - you got one bad one, that’s how good you are.
The quality of a banker’s portfolio is dependent on the weakest client in that portfolio. If you have one idiot who’s taking up too much of your time, too much of your energy, and is costing you money, then why is that person there? ‘Cause you don’t have a choice? That’s really bad. How are you tolerating this toxic behaviour? Because you’re afraid to lose them? That’s really bad. If this client just annoys you at the beginning of the day, how’s the rest of your day? It’s ruined. Imagine if your good clients call you afterwards and your energy level has been destroyed because of this idiot, how is that fair on them? You owe it to them to have a healthy portfolio of clients and you owe it to your good clients.
I’ll tell you a story.One of my bankers had one of these clients. And my banker was really afraid of saying, “I’m trying to grow my book, I don’t have enough assets, but this person is so annoying”. And finally said, “You know what, the person pushed the limit”. So we prepared this call.
I was amazed that he did it. I said, you know there are different options, we’ll look at options, you choose if you want to do it or not. If you don’t do it, you’ll have more of this behaviour. He says, “Well I can’t tolerate that”.
The banker called up the client, and said, “Listen, I have to talk honestly with you. I really like you as a person, but my God you’re so annoying. You’re so annoying. You call and you talk and talk and talk, and complain and complain, and you talk some more and you complain some more. And it depletes my energy and I try to have a conversation but it seems like you’re just angry and just frustrated, and I can’t take it! I can’t take it. So much complaining, so much negativity, so much talking, and you have so little money with me. So little, you promised you’d at least have at least a million, you gave only $600,000, you keep on promising you’ll bring in the money, but nothing happens. What this tells me "you don’t like me, you don’t like the services. So unfortunately I think we’d better stop the relationship because I can’t take it anymore". The banker stopped talking, felt the pulse, there was a silence.
The client started laughing and he said, “You know my wife tells me the same thing
The banker gave the clients three months. The client promised he won’t annoy the banker for three months, and send in the money. Result: the banker got an extra $2 million which was above the initial amount. The client said, “It’s good that somebody actually tells this to me, I’m used to people who are yes-men, yes-women, as an entrepreneur who tell me what I want to hear, and so much that putting down the limit is refreshing, and also it’s what I expect from a banker.”
The banker understood it could have gone both ways. He also was happy to let them go if they left, he was okay with it because that was better than having more abuse.
Frederik Van Lierde: Once, not a client of this high level, I had the same with an issue with a client, she was always complaining and complaining, I gave her all the time, other staff to work with her. One day I told her “Listen, I gave you all my staff, and still, you’re complaining, this means we can’t deliver what you’re expecting, I don’t want to see you again”. In my case, she didn’t come back because for her it was always getting extra percentages or free treatments. It was a good decision because I was losing time and my energy to keep the staff happy, this woman was almost abusive and violent. I was happy I did it.
What you’re telling here is so familiar for me in entrepreneurship.
What made you go then into coaching for bankers? The banking world is rather a very small industry compared to other industries and the number of people.
It’s an interesting story because I worked for a long time in finance in Geneva. I worked actually doing marketing in asset management and this confuses people, they go like, “You never were a banker, so what the hell do you know about banking?” That’s a very fair point, very fair point.
On the other hand, I worked with dozens of bankers, supporting them, selling to their clients, giving them the information on the asset management investment solutions that we were offering, the funds, always being focused on helping the banker improve their relationship with their client - that to me was the main thing. I didn’t care if the client bought our products. In my mind it was to improve the relationship, that’s better for the banker, that’s better for the group.
If I’m being pushy, I’m doing the wrong thing in terms of the relationship. I still have the banker’s word, I saw what was working better, less well. I really had this philosophy that the point of marketing is to make sales. If we’re not changing the bottom line, or if we’re not avoiding losses or lack of sales, then there’s no point, there has to be something tangible.
Everything I was doing was sales-oriented, even if it was changing slideshows around, to stop talking about us so much and more talking about the needs - this product was made to answer these needs. When I wanted to change my career, I loved the idea of coaching.
Coaching is really broad, I loved the idea of getting all this knowledge, reading all these books, understanding methodology, creating these tools and sharing the tools. It’s not easy to do that when you’re in a position where that’s not your role. I took a step back and rethink how things are going - I know things could be going better.
When I was working on learning these coaching tools. I got a call from a banker I knew who basically said, “Listen, I need some help. I need to raise more assets, I don’t know how to do it, I switched banks, I can’t get the clients to follow me, I don’t know how to talk to them. could you help me? I want something that is specifically made for bankers, from someone who understands banking, who understands my position, who’s not going to give me training about how to better shake someone’s hand. I don’t want training about, random theories that are not relevant, and I need to raise assets. Everything we should do should be to raise assets. I’m paying you out of my pocket, I just had a pay cut, things are financially tense, I’m willing to do it but I need to make every dollar count, every Swiss franc count.”
I created a program with him. His goal was to raise his assets under management, his goal was to raise it by 25-50% in a year and we got 50% in 8 months, both from existing clients and new clients. mind-blowing results
This got me thinking about what I could do as a coach. The coaching world is huge. There’s a lot of competition, there are a lot of generalists who are very, very good at what they’re doing as generalists, I saw and I see time and time again a need of bankers who want someone who isn’t locked into their own belief of “if it worked for me, it will work for everyone else”, someone who’s not stigmatic about their approach, someone who’s not trying to prove that their ego is right, and that can be the case with former bankers.
If you’re a former banker becoming a coach, why are you doing that? What happened to your clients? Why do you no longer have them as clients? They can have good reasons, but these are questions to be asked. And to what extend can you adapt different people’s approaches, or will you think that if you’re a pushy banker, the key to your success was being pushy even when someone else’s clients disliked pushy bankers?
Looking at the options, I thought that would be interesting. I got more in depth into it, it was fun. I created this methodology that is, as far as I can make out, unique. It seems I’m pretty much the only one in this niche doing it with a specific focus and the psychology with these different tools.
One of them is actually like detection, understanding micro-expressions, to help people know when their prospects are lying to them, know when they’re lying to themselves. That’s quite fun. And it seems that other people are more, who cater to bankers, do more of the executive coaching, more of the standardized coaching.
I’m really focused on how do we get to a meeting with someone, once you have the meeting, how do you deal with the meeting and how do you follow up. So it’s sort of at the end of the process.
There’s actually a company in Geneva and London, they do a lot of support and consulting for banks. And they do everything up to the point where I start - they do nothing psychological. They don’t get it, and they say they do all the technical things, all the processes, all of those things, the contracts, but not the psychology.
I start with the psychology of the banker, the psychology of the client, and the psychology of the team. The mindset of how to lead this and how to build actually a sustainable business for the banker, that’s even part of the business planning which is linked to the client base, linked to the strong points, the weak points, the personality type.
That’s how I got into it. It’s a fun niche to be in. The bankers I work with are really cool. It’s a lot of fun to work with them. It’s great to see them be successful. I get very fond of them and they’re genuinely good people wanting to provide something valuable to clients, not wanting to be pushy, to be dishonest; they really care about their clients. It’s nice to help them work along and provide something valuable.
Frederik Van Lierde: I don’t always have that feeling that they care about my business and myself so I think those bankers should hire you so I have a better connection with them (laughs)!
Because it’s so niche, because there’s so much privacy, how do you, and I think you have clients worldwide, How can someone in Singapore, a banker in Singapore, know about you? I can’t imagine easily that if you coach one banker, he will say, “Hey I found someone who helped me,” I’d guess they want to keep it for themselves.
how do you market yourself around the world? Can you give a hint?
It depends. So bankers are less likely to tell the competitors about it, but if you’re a banker who covers the Singapore market, and you have a friend who covers the Benelux market, you’re more likely to say, “Hey listen I worked with this chap, he helped me out, you should give him a look”. That’s more likely to happen.
It happens though that I get recommendations, referrals, people say, “I worked with Frederick Kermisch”, or sometimes “I listen to a podcas of Frederick Kermisch.”.
I did a podcast earlier this year with someone else, a very interesting sales coach, and that gave a lot of traction. My LinkedIn articles speak. Some people find me through my website. People tend to spend more time on social media than websites these days it seems.
I think not many people look for a private banker coach. But if they do, I’m probably on top of the list (the last time I looked I was on top of the list).
Now, it’s alright them to think about "are people willing to invest in their own career"? The weird thing is where if they do and it works, they can earn so much more money but they sometimes feel like the employers should be the one investing. Coming back, this is the employee mindset, the entrepreneurs view things differently.
My marketing is largely word-of-mouth, social media, LinkedIn, conversations such as this one.
People who know of me, with whom I’ve worked, or who know me from before, and sometimes saying they hear someone complain about something and say, “Well if you want somebody who can actually help you achieve results quickly, tangibly, here’s the person to call.”
I’ve been very fortunate that people have been happy enough to often give referrals, refer me to others. That’s a good sign that things working out.