Interview – Mario Marconi

What do banks offer in terms of philanthropy services and what are the benefits for both bank and client? Caroline Hartnell spoke to some of the leaders in this field: Mario Marconi at UBS, Mark Evans at Coutts, Philippe Depoorter at Banque de Luxembourg and Nathalie Sauvanet at BNP Paribas.

What does UBS offer its clients in the way of philanthropy services?

We mainly provide two things to clients. One is what I would call strategic advising, accompanying the client in his/her philanthropic journey. The other thing is what we call ‘knowledge exchange platforms’, events where clients have the opportunity to exchange ideas with their peers and sector experts. Once a year we hold a global philanthropy forum – the most recent was in April in Singapore, where we brought together a large number of clients along with 64 sector professionals for a couple of days. We also organize a number of smaller events, roundtables and workshops, depending on the demand.

When did you start offering these services? And why?

We started back in 2004. We were among the first wealth managers to enter this area. We did so because we recognized a need for support from our high-net-worth clients in their philanthropic activities. We observed that these people wanted to actively engage in philanthropy, and they wanted to ensure they did it properly, and professionally, and with impact. And they needed access to information, data and ‘strategic guidance’. All these observations are equally valid today.

It was partly that our clients were asking for help, but it was also that we saw a trend, and we decided to enter this area.

Are there aspects of your clients’ philanthropy that you don’t get involved in?

Usually we don’t direct clients to specific projects, for two reasons. First, this is a very personal choice and clients are often very clear about the area they want to be active in. Second, we cover this service on a global basis, and our clients’ needs are so diverse that we could never have proper expertise in all the topics that clients are interested in. So we often refer clients to other providers or professionals in the specific sector in which they want to operate.

We do have our own foundation, the UBS Optimus Foundation, created ten years ago, to which clients can donate. It focuses on two themes: one is education and child protection; the other one is global health research, mainly centred on children. The value proposition for clients who donate to Optimus Foundation is that we cover all the administrative costs of the foundation, so every euro donated by the client goes to the project. Clients at the top end of the market, who are thinking about setting up their own foundation and have very clear views on what they want to do, will probably prefer to set up their own charitable organization.  

If your clients do set up their own foundations, are the assets typically managed by UBS?

Managing the assets of a newly set-up foundation is not a precondition for our philanthropy services advisory offering. But in most cases, where we have the privilege to assist the client throughout their philanthropic journey up to the set-up of their own foundation, the assets are then managed by UBS.

Have the services you offer evolved over time?

In light of current trends, we decided to review our offering and further investment in this area. First, the growing professionalism in philanthropy and the growing complexity of addressing certain social or environmental issues means there is even more need for support. Second, different ways of engaging in philanthropy and funding social causes have emerged recently around social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, applying more business principles to philanthropy, and so on. Finally, we see a growing demand for support not just at the top end of the market.

So we have now decided to further invest in the area. We have brought together our expertise in the philanthropy services area, our UBS Optimus Foundation, and what we do on the investment side to create a unit called Philanthropy and Values-based Investing, under which we will support the needs of all clients who are trying to do good.

Mario Marconi is Head of Philanthropy and Values-Based Investing at UBS. Email

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