The Client Comes First
As Head of the Depositary Bank at Credit Suisse (Luxembourg) S.A., Holger Barth does not have direct contact with clients. Nevertheless, it is clients' needs that shape his work day.
When I leave my house near the Luxembourg border in Germany between 6:30 and 7:00 in the morning, I spend an hour in the car getting to work. I use this time to make my first phone calls of the day to my co-workers. I have been commuting for 23 years and am one of 160,000 cross-border commuters who pour into Luxembourg every day from Germany, France and Belgium. I have been working for Credit Suisse since February 2014 and am Head of the Depositary Bank at Credit Suisse (Luxembourg) S.A., which is responsible for the Credit Suisse funds domiciled in Luxembourg, among other things. The bank's primary task is to safekeep and manage the financial assets in which the funds have been invested, as well as carry out custodian bank checks.
In principle, we process orders from all of the portfolio managers who trade securities for a fund through a broker. We ensure that these transactions are recognized in the accounts and transacted properly. In addition, we manage the cash accounts for these funds. I am also responsible for ensuring that the financial instruments held in safekeeping – despite most of them being held electronically – are safely stored in sub-custodians' safekeeping accounts. Because the bank is held liable for losses, the management business is also very regulation-driven. We do not perform this bundle of transaction processes entirely ourselves, rather we delegate tasks to different service providers whose process quality we, in turn, must manage and monitor. The transaction regulations in the respective markets are too diverse. Global Network Management in Zurich selects the external service providers – notably the sub-custodians – according to strict criteria, and constantly monitors them. We must guarantee that each of the 140,000 orders received annually is processed properly, completely and in real time.
However, in its function as a custodian bank, Credit Suisse (Luxembourg) S.A. also acts as a service provider for external clients. In the case of the third-party funds business, we work together with Credit Suisse Investor Services to offer, for example, our comprehensive technical and administrative funds infrastructure in Luxembourg to asset managers or family offices. This can include the entire value chain – from investment via the management company, funds administration, the transfer agent (registry and transfer point for the funds share certificate company) to the custodian bank function. The volume of third-party funds business, along with the proprietary funds business, is constantly growing. Today, it comprises almost half of the approximately CHF 60 billion in total assets that we manage in the funds.
In addition to day-to-day operations ("Run the Bank"), I'm also deeply involved with regulatory projects ("Change the Bank"). For example, I am a member of an internal supervisory committee for a project whose goal is to implement new requirements for the custodian bank function. The work I do in such committees is the only predictable thing in my work day. When we accept new funds, they are reviewed in a standardized process. If a client proposes a new investment idea through a client advisor, it is presented to the Fund Offering Board (FOB) at Credit Suisse Investor Services. The board is made up of various decision-makers from the diverse functions along the value chain. If the FOB gives the fund idea the green light, it then gets forwarded, after further, in-depth clarifications and negotiations, to the Fund Approval Committee (FAC), which approves the feasibility of this fund project and gives the go-ahead for operational implementation. Clients sometimes come to us with very complicated business ideas that are not necessarily standard. Our challenge is to then channel the request and find a creative solution. Client requests can turn a carefully scheduled work day totally on its head, because the client always comes first. Although I myself do not have direct contact with our clients, I am always kept informed by our two teams of account managers, as well as our portfolio managers and client advisors.
After countless meetings, numerous unforeseeable ad hoc issues to be taken care of and a sandwich at lunch, I get back in my car in the evening and take care of a few last phone calls on the way home. Commuting has become the norm for me, but the center of my life is where my wife and two children are. To maintain a good work-life balance, I enjoy running and cycling and, in doing so, enjoy the beautiful rolling countryside where I live.