The co-founder of 220, the world’s first digital ‘private members club’ bank, set out to meet the newly-gilded generation on their own terms. He let Hannah Duncan into the not-so-secret circle of the young elite.
Both of us are Welsh and both of us moved to Switzerland as soon as we finished university to rub shoulders with the oh-so-discreet advisors to the super-rich.
“It was definitely a culture shock,” says Fudge. “I don’t think there’s anywhere more foreign in terms of economic welfare than Zurich compared to say some parts of Cardiff. Not to put Cardiff down, I love it, but it’s a different world entirely.”
He’s right: the accents, the attitude and, most of all, the affluence can be staggering. “In Zurich, you hear people talking billions, not millions,” he says.
Around 100 private banks cluster at the foot of the Alps in the country’s financial hubs of Zurich and Zug. These tax-efficient locations are home to a sprawling wealth management industry, which is populated mostly by older white men in expensive Italian suits, with grey comb-overs and Rolex watches. They’re often managing old money for other aging white men. But, as Fudge discovered, that’s not what Millennials who are minting it want.
Barely a Millennial himself, at the tender age of 24, he’s CEO and co-founder with YouTube influencer Sam Harry of 220, a ’private members bank’ for fellow influencers, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors. Crucially, it’s the first all-digital private members’ bank.
Unlike competitors, 220, which is due to launch this summer, has been created for young affluent people, by young affluent people, the idea sparked by an exasperating conversation Harry was forced to have with a mortgage broker who struggled to get what an influencer-cum-Facebook Gaming Partner did for a living.
Of course, the super rich don’t need a mortgage broker – they don’t need a mortgage. But it got the pair thinking, and they realised they’d stumbled on the elite end of a US$24trillion problem. That’s the estimated value of today’s Millennial generation, according to UBS bank: roughly 1.5 times the size of the US economy in 2015. Somewhere between the ages of 22 and 38, they’re sitting on a comfortable pile of liquid and other assets accumulated through inheritance, entrepreneurial activities or other income – often a combination of all three. And they either don’t know how to handle it or feel traditional wealth management services are stuck in a timewarp. According to Fudge, they broadly fall into two groups.
“The savvy investors are people who have accumulated or inherited certain assets and are looking to invest them in a very price-efficient way. Then you have the customers who just want the investment handled for them, taken off their hands.
“There are thousands of these entrepreneurial or first-generation-wealth Millennials with banks whose services suck,” says Fudge. “They’re too expensive and they’re old-school. It’s just pretty tragic, so we thought we’d do something about it.”
Bridging the gap between fintech and private banking, he’s confident that 220 will upstage the old incumbents, who have an almost-zero digital presence.
“If you look at some EY numbers, it says only 23 per cent of wealth managers consider digital to be a core strategy focus,” says Fudge. “I find it hilarious. It makes me think of my Nan going ’I don’t know how to work with this digital. Can you show me how to do it?’. I feel like she’s going to ask me to show her how to use Facebook, which is almost outdated (sorry Nan!). So, I asked, what did they mean by digital? And it turns out it includes everything up to using a firm’s main website as a marketing presence, as in using it to publish information on a website. So, there’s up to 77 per cent of wealth managers who don’t even care about having a website.”
To be fair, previous generations of the super-rich have tended to err on the side of discretion to the point of invisibility, introduced to advisors through a closed network of similarly retiring clients who are rolling in it. Services advertised in the public view would be anathema to them. But Millennials and Gen Zers are not their parents. These nouveau riche are digital natives: they ARE their website and they expect their bank to be on the same (web)page as them, figuratively speaking.
According to a recent Accenture study, 67 per cent of Millennials expect to have robo-advice, 63 per cent expect to connect directly to advisors through an app and 62 per cent want a platform that incorporates social media. Millennials find multiple channels cumbersome and hate anything which isn’t straightforward, so they’re not well-suited to traditional banks. They want the special service that a luxury bank can offer, without the lengthy paperwork and high fees.
“The average onboarding time for one leading wealth management bank is four weeks, which is pretty archaic,” says Fudge. “We’re looking to offer the most premium banking service of all of the neo banks. For those who are looking for support in terms of investments that would correlate to the colossal $60trillion-plus market for private wealth. But no one’s offering in that space.”
Traditional wealth managers have tried (and mostly failed) to scoop up this not just well-but-Louboutin-heeled generation. So, where has fintech been?
“I think fintech undersells itself and basically comes in and goes ’yeah, we’re kind of quirky and cheap’,” says Fudge. “It hasn’t realised that, in fact, the world of private banking is a perfect place to apply fintech because, of course, the whole idea of private banking is that someone else will take care of the finances for you. Fintech is the ultimate private banker.”
Offering an exclusive banking service that works around the digital lifestyles of affluent Gen-Zers and Millennials is one thing. But Fudge believes it also solves a deeper, more complex problem that often confronts the newly anointed rich. 220 doesn’t just sell private banking and concierge services, it sells acceptance.
The look and feel of the bank card came up a number of times in our conversation. “We offer the nicest card in the market.
It’s ceramic steel, gloss metal,” says Fudge. “I had a comment from a girl who said that she always has a sinking feeling in her stomach when she sees a guy pull out a Monzo card on a date, because she feels like she’s going to pay for half the drinks. And I’m like ’ouch’. That’s the worst insult I could ever have. Essentially, I want someone to pull out our card and go ’oh sh*t!’.”
220 is there to out-snob the snobs. It’s a sexy rebellion against old money and old thinking. It’s ceramic steel card is two fingers to baby boomer banking and antiquated mindsets. Would I have tried to get one when I first went to Zurich? You bet I would.