It has been reported that the glass ceiling is thicker in Private Banking than in other areas of finance but women at Societe Generale Private Banking Hambros (SGPB Hambros) in Gibraltar have not only broken through, with more women than men amongst the 50 strong staff force, but the top two roles both have women at the helm.
As CEO of SG Hambros Bank (Gibraltar) Limited since 2006, having achieved that position at the young age of 40, Emma Perez has been recognised for her impressive rise up the corporate ladder when in 2009 she was judged one of Wealth Bulletins’ 40 Rising Stars in European Wealth Management under 40 and, just recently, she was named as one of the Citywealth IFC Power Woman Top 200 for 2015 in government, private wealth, education, private client advisory and philanthropy across the international financial centres (IFCs). “It has been recognised that women bring a different strength to boards with a lot more emotional intelligence involved in the way a woman conducts herself, so it brings more balance to the all-male decision making,” Emma says. What about her experience as a woman heading up a private banking entity in Gibraltar? Has she experienced any discrimination? “I have never experienced a glass ceiling, but I know people who have” Emma says. “I was reading an article about quotas on boards, which I don’t agree with as I think it is the right person for the job, having said that there are countries where women don’t have a seat at the table and I think in those circumstances it is appropriate that those quotas do come in.”
Commenting on the fact that Gibraltar has moved a long way over the last 20 years in regard to opportunities open to women, Emma says: “It really is improving if you have the right attitude, I don’t think you really need to have resilience as there is a lot of luck in this game in being in the right place at the right time, but it is nothing that has ever really phased me.” Does SGPB Hambros have a different ethos to other banking institutions because of where they are from? “There is a strong push for diversity, not just gender diversity, within the bank’s values as a whole, but I don’t think there is anything specifically different within SGPB Hambros – it is just the opportunities that have been given,” she says. Born in the UK, Emma came to Gibraltar at the age of 11 with her family when her father took up a post as a doctor with the civilian hospital. After completing her schooling Emma went on to study accountancy locally, taking her ACCA exams through KPMG and has stayed in Gibraltar ever since.
“I started my formal training with KPMG, taking a year’s sabbatical when I first got married, and then went back but decided that I didn’t want to stay in practice for accountancy,” Emma states. “An opportunity came up with Credit Suisse locally so I moved there and stayed for about 3 years, joining SGPB Hambros in 2001 within the finance function.” Emma’s short career path saw her moving on to become Deputy MD, eventually taking over as CEO.
Emma was operational in the acquisition of ABN AMRO’s Private Banking activities in Gibraltar in 2008, when the bank began to be known as Societe Generale Private Banking Hambros, (SGPB Hambros). “That was an interesting time for both banks and it effectively doubled our business, but although we were two very similar businesses, we had to merge together two very different cultures.”
With a substantial group global presence employing around 140,000 people worldwide, Emma says that out of the 50 employees within the Gibraltar office at the moment, many have remained with them since the original acquisition of ABN and she is proud of the low staff turnover rate. Amongst other responsible roles, Emma was President of the Gibraltar Banking Association for a two year tenure from January 2011 and she has been on the board of the Financial Services Commission (FSC) for the past three years. In this respect Emma said that they were waiting to see the impact that regulatory changes, such as MiFID II in relation to investments and BRRD, will have on doing business within Gibraltar.
Whilst banking worldwide is facing significant challenges, Emma identified the constantly changing regulations coming through from the EU as something that senior management has to be fully conversant with ahead of time. “The expectations on senior management as accountable for all their staff is something that we are seeing in the UK now and it will be coming through here soon.”
World financial markets can be seen as having had a bumpy ride at the beginning of 2016, so what significant hurdles does Emma see for the private banking industry going forward? “The banking sector is shrinking and with the capital and the cost of running a business being that much more, the banks are entrenching and refocusing on smaller geographical footprints,” she states. Focusing on Gibraltar’s financial services, Emma comments that insurance is still buoyant but that the forthcoming referendum on Brexit is very important. “Our model is based on being part of the European Union and without that we may need to rethink what our selling points are for the jurisdiction.” Although there are financial services which won’t need the EU label, Emma says that for the insurance companies who use it for passporting rights, it could have an impact on whether people decide to come to Gibraltar. “It is something we need to be cognisant of but I am sure that the Government is already thinking of new industries to move into.” She smiles as she says, “We have survived so many things, I am sure we will survive again by reinventing ourselves.”
Part of SG Hambros’ role is managing their clients’ expectations and with the recent fluctuations in the Chinese stock market, this also means a lot of ‘hand-holding’. “We have a constant committee that looks at every investment around the world that enables us to give excellent advice, but we are part of a very large group with skills and expertise in all areas.” To this end SGPB Hambros runs a series of long standing popular and successful investment seminars for clients and potential clients. A team of experts fly into Gibraltar from Paris and Switzerland delivering strategy updates to invitees, the next one being held shortly at the Wessex lounge at Gibraltar International Airport.
Hambros has had a presence in Gibraltar since 1981 when it started more as a retail business until 1998 when it was acquired by SG. “Today we are pure private banking, but one that is quite different to other private banks in the jurisdiction in that we have a mass affluent type client base with three different levels; £250,000 to £1 million, £1 million to £10 million and then another threshold,” Emma explains.
“Because of the restrictions on banking in the jurisdiction we are finding that the first threshold is proving to be popular, especially with locals or people coming in to the jurisdiction, either moving here or from across the border,” Emma states. “Young professionals are getting a feel for private banking and as they get older and become more affluent we then have an established relationship already in place.” For the last two years SGPB Hambros Gibraltar has won the Euromoney award for ‘Best Private Bank in Gibraltar for their Investment Offering’. Emma’s vision for SGPB Hambros within Gibraltar is that it should grow significantly, organically, over the next couple of years, but at the moment she is pleased that business is burgeoning. “Generally across the client base, and that includes institution clients, there is a demand for our services,” she states, carrying on to explain that not only is this due to the quality service provided by SGPB Hambros but it is also as a result of consequences in the jurisdiction – such as other institutions closing their doors.
Explaining that there is a good support network in the banking industry in Gibraltar, Emma says: “We recognise what different traits each bank brings to the jurisdiction and all the CEO’s have mutual respect for one another, which means that you can pick up the phone and call anyone if you have an issue.”
With an equally successful and busy husband, CEO of the Bland Group John Perez, and two young daughters, Elena and Talia, Emma has no aspirations to leave Gibraltar in the near future.
“I have no yearning to go elsewhere and I am extremely lucky to have a really good support network and a great nanny who takes care of my life!”