Hindu heir seeks to remake Swiss bank for a host of t-shirts

Karam Hinduja has little Swiss ambitions for the Swiss private bank he took over last year.

Srichand Hinduja’s 31-year-old grandson, the patriarch of the $ 18 billion Indo-British group Hinduja, says he wants to stay true to his grandfather’s values ​​while trying to remake the bank to attract a more modern clientele and less stuffy. In an interview at the bank’s headquarters in Geneva, Karam said he told his employees to be more like the bank’s clients, who may have made their fortunes just as well as tech entrepreneurs as they did in the field. finance.

“If your client is in shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of flip flops, feel free to do the same, meet him on his level,” said the executive.

Karam took over the bank at a difficult time for Hindus, with an escalating conflict between his sick 85-year-old grandfather and Srichand’s three younger brothers. It does not help that the bank is at the heart of the conflict. In a legal battle, Srichand – represented by his daughter Vinoo – claims exclusive ownership of the bank. The SP brothers say the bank is part of the group.

Karam took the lead in early 2020, a year that saw customer assets drop more than 30% from just two years earlier to 1.69 billion Swiss francs ($ 1.82 billion). The declines were due to declines in asset values, not customer withdrawals. Total assets under management rebounded to reach 2.43 billion Swiss francs at the end of October.

Karam renamed the bank SP Hinduja Banque Privée, although on the Hinduja group website it is still called Hinduja Bank Switzerland. The executive sometimes receives calls about the family dispute from those who know his grandfather, but says it’s more “noise” than anything else and says he is focusing on planning for the future of the family. the bank.

“I’m aware of the dynamics that are happening at the family level, but I’m here to try to build a fantastic financial institution,” he said with a sharp East Coast accent for a decade in New York City as as an undergraduate student at Columbia. University then in venture capital.

In the United States, he almost chose another career, spending a year at Nick Bollettieri’s elite tennis academy in Florida with the goal of turning pro. It was derailed by a herniated disc and the realization that he would not make the cut. He is now back in Europe to take part in the family business.

At the bank, he couldn’t be more different from his predecessor, Gilbert Pfaeffli, a former Swiss Army colonel who had spent three decades at UBS Group AG. Pfaeffli was hired in 2016 following two bad investments in commodities trading that cost the bank 25 million Swiss francs.

“There was a lack of control, there was a lack of order,” Karam said. Pfaeffli “was the perfect person, with his experience, to bring this very military style to the institution”.

The bank was stripped of its Cayman Islands banking license in May 2020 for failing to comply with anti-money laundering compliance rules. This unit was already being closed at the time and has since been closed, Karam said. The bank also faces two claims totaling 6 million Swiss francs from unidentified former customers “alleging breaches of the bank’s obligations,” according to its annual report.

Karam brought four people from Timeless Media, a digital media company he founded in New York City, and a similar number of Srichand advisers from London to Geneva to shake things up.

“I’m not from the traditional world of finance,” said Karam, wearing a black suit and a matching black open-neck shirt. “I have done business, I have invested, but I do not come from the banking base.

The bank launched Climate Action Portfolio, a fund focused on investing in alternative energy to attract a different kind of investor. Hinduja said he is planning further forays into India, where young entrepreneurs from Indian families who had left the country are now returning.

“The industry is on the move in India. The markets are moving. There are a lot of opportunities, ”he said.

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