Swiss bankers have set up shop in Israel for high-end asset placement, a sign that Israel’s continued hi-tech boom has enriched talented engineers and start-up founders, while those outside the tech field may be struggling.
The Zurich-based Zwei Wealth Experts AG, founded by Patrick Müller and Klaus Wellershoff, chose Tel Aviv as the site of their first overseas office in 2017. The company targets wealthy people with assets ranging from $500,000 to one client with a fortune of $100 million.
Already, dozens of Israeli clients have placed at least $100m. worth of assets with Zwei. The company estimates that Israelis have already deposited tens of billions of dollars into private foreign banking, with Israel being one of the leading countries in terms of offshore wealth.
There are currently 162,000 millionaires here, a nearly 19% rise from the previous year, according to the Boston Consulting Group, as cited by Bloomberg. To serve the growing high-end constituency, there are some 100 private banks and family offices to choose from.
“I think [Israel’s] medium-term growth prospects are great,” said Wellershoff, chairman of the Zwei board. “There’s a very large innovation sector in your economy with modern-minded entrepreneurs. And I think this spirit of not wanting to miss out on things changing in the economy, in the banking industry, it’s something we thrive on.”
With the rising fortunes comes worsening income inequality – as Israel faces one of the largest gaps between rich and poor among developed OECD countries. And some 60% of Zwei’s Israeli clients are sitting on inherited wealth, with only a minority, 40%, having made their fortune in meritocratic hi-tech.
While financial-technology may be changing the banking industry, many high net-worth individuals continue to prioritize their personal relationships with their asset manager and with their bank. Due to the field of private banking being notoriously traditional, clients tend to stick to their personal banker for years and generations.
But Zwei isn’t concerned about their new Israeli branch.
“Traditionally, you go somewhere where you feel comfortable with the people,” Wellershoff said, describing start-up founders who come into a lot of money after a successful exit. “And a few years later, you find out that you made a mistake.”
Likewise, in comparison to more staid Europeans and Americans who are less questioning of the asset manager, skeptical Israelis are more willing to change banks and asset managers annually.
“The Israeli client is very curious,” said CEO Müller, who previously oversaw the banking giant UBS’s Israel and African operations before moving to head the bank’s European sales team. “In contrast to other countries, Israeli investors are very keen to look at new things, a new investment opportunity or a new approach to how to do it better. You’ll always find a very high proportion of people open to changes, an open-mindedness.”
And one advantage that Zwei enjoys is that Israeli banks are not allowed to provide similar services, as the Bank of Israel separates portfolio management from any kind of transactional business. In other words, Israeli banks cannot charge for advisory services.