Philanthropy interview

  • Author : Clive Cutbill
  • Author : Maya Prabhu
  • Date : June 2010
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE: Maya Prabhu is Head of UK Philanthropy at Coutts & Co.
Q. What is the business case for offering philanthropy advisory services at your firm and what are the benefits in offering such a service?

Coutts is an advice-led business where understanding a client’s ambitions and concerns for their wealth is paramount. Coutts has expertise across the entire spectrum of wealth management, from banking to investments, and philanthropy advice is an integral part of the conversations that private bankers have with clients, particularly when discussing ‘life enrichment.’

Philanthropy is a personal subject and links closely with a donor’s passions and personal experiences. For our private bankers, being able to connect with their clients on subjects they deeply care about helps deepen the relationship, building mutual trust and loyalty. This tends to result in the client doing more business with the bank generally. It distinguishes our service and our private bankers from our competitors.

Q. What skills do you think professional advisors need to have to help their clients with philanthropy? For example, how can an advisor overcome a client’s reluctance to talk about philanthropy?

To raise the subject of philanthropy, professional advisors first and foremost need to be empathetic and have a desire to get into the client’s world. Some personal experience of charitable giving helps enormously.

At Coutts, it is typically the private banker who will initiate a conversation on this subject with his or her clients. The private banker would then bring me in as the ‘specialist’, to have a deeper advisory conversation. Often I am also part of a team brought in by a banker to showcase the depth and breadth of Coutts’ expertise to clients.

I think there is more reluctance amongst advisors than there is amongst clients! And this is largely due to advisors not understanding the subject and how to raise it. So we educate our bankers about the possibilities to enrich the lives of their clients and to enhance their relationships with clients through philanthropy. We also train them to understand some of the drivers for philanthropy, so that they can spot the right time to raise the subject. This might be at a liquidity event for example, or if a client is having an estate planning conversation.

The Coutts Forums for Philanthropy are also an easy way for bankers to introduce the subject to their clients. We know clients find these occasions inspiring and educational and they can often act as the trigger for them to want to find out more.

Q. Over the years, have you seen a difference in demand for this type of service and do you find it appeals more or less to a particular kind of client?

Since the philanthropy team was established at Coutts in 2005, we have seen a rapid increase in demand for philanthropy advice. Building on the success of our proposition in the UK, we are now rolling this out across our offices in Asia, Switzerland and the Middle East.

There is an interest in philanthropy from across our client base and across the UK – from City professionals to entrepreneurs, to those who have made their money in the sports and entertainment industries.

Philanthropy is a journey rather than an event. We work with clients who are at the start of this journey and those who have been giving for some time.

Q. In practical terms, what does your firm do to help clients give effectively and how do you work with other philanthropy experts?

We do a number of things to help clients. We help them create their own personal giving strategies, which can involve helping them to choose the causes they wish to support; clarifying how they can make a difference to these causes; helping them select charities; and working with them to review their giving.

We provide clients with the opportunity to learn and share experiences with other philanthropists through the Coutts Forums for Philanthropy. In addition, through the Coutts Handbook for Philanthropy we help clients and their families to ask some of the right questions at the right time, to avoid some of the common pitfalls, and to consider some of the ways in which they can make a difference.

In the area of microfinance, we have pioneered a service providing clients with information and guidance, and also given them an opportunity to fund selected charities collectively through a donor-advised fund.

On the structuring side, we are the first UK private bank to offer clients the opportunity to open a Charitable Giving Account. We also help clients set up and manage charitable trusts and/or foundations.

We work with other philanthropy experts to enhance the knowledge that we bring. This is particularly true in the area of identifying good charities, or where another expert has strong knowledge of, and expertise in, a field or cause – for instance, those linked with the environment or social enterprise.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to develop a practice in this area, what would it be?

Invest in an outstanding philanthropy expert who can inspire bankers and clients and embed the service within your firm!


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