“At Pictet I have the freedom, I am acknowledged the credibility and given the trust to build the strategy for the Turkish market.”

About Ebru

Role: Head of Turkish market at Pictet Wealth Management
Based in: Geneva

Ebru Oncu

Why did you join Pictet after a career mostly spent in larger Anglo-Saxon? 

First and foremost, I wanted to work for an institution with a business strategy focused on the creation of direct value for clients instead of one that is defined and modified with the sole goal of maximizing shareholder value.

Listed companies indeed often build and frequently modify their business strategies to create shareholder value, along the evolution of the share performance, rather than creating client value. This was quite challenging for a banker like me who firmly believes in the value of long-term client relationships and long-term strategies which are tactically finetuned, yet do not deviate in essence. 

What have your first impressions been?

I firmly believe that at Pictet I have the freedom, that I am acknowledged the credibility and given the trust to build the strategy for the Turkish market. All support was granted to me to facilitate my first steps as well as the integration between the existing successful team serving the Turkish market and the colleagues who joined with me. Also, I sense and enjoy a true spirit of entrepreneurship while being given the time and resources to serve our clients. What I see in Pictet is a firm that is well-structured but at the same time flexible and open to discussion when it comes to new concrete business opportunities. I was very impressed to hear how Pictet consistently invested in the Japanese market for years before seeing the results, taking a long-term view. To me this is an illustration of pure dedication to creating business and client value, which is unfortunately a behaviour not often attributed to major listed competitors.

To what extent are Pictet’s key differentiators (privately-owned, succession/ transmission model) and business model (focus on one métier) a plus for Turkish clients as compared to listed competitors’ governance? 

With the Turkish market being quite volatile, clients very much appreciate sustainable and long-term relationships. Many would have typically faced four or even five economic crises. They tend to have a long-term memory and reward players who have stood by them and provided support and advice in good times as well as in bad times. As much emotional or irrational that might sound, clients in the Turkish market are more inclined to price-in this added value as an illustration of loyalty to their long-standing advisers than change to a cheaper service. In a way, it is a reflection of a truly Mediterranean culture. Therefore Pictet’s long-term and dedicated business approach is an ideal fit with the DNA of the Turkish market.

Also, the number of companies with a public float is quite low compared to privately held companies in Turkey. Among the top 500 firms in Turkey the number of listed companies has dropped from 124 in 2008 to just 98 in 2020. This is a market of mostly privately held and generally family-controlled businesses who aspire to successfully pass on the company to the next generation. During a recent meeting with an UHNW Turkish family, Pictet’s governance model caught the clients’ attention. “We should learn from Pictet and their model to create and consistently keep business value for over 200 years”, they said.

It is also true of course that being in an emerging market, entrepreneurs in Turkey value an extended banking service including investment and corporate banking. Having said that, I have increasingly noticed that entrepreneurs tend to shift away from universal banking groups, preferring specialised institutions. Moreover, wealth owners prefer banks with a fortress balance sheet, such as Pictet, with no commercial lending load. The relevance of Pictet’s pure wealth management focus was again reaffirmed this year when listed and multi-focused banks had to allocate billions of reserves to their balance sheet as part of their commercial lending activity during the Covid pandemic. 

Can you share any numbers on the potential of the Turkish wealth management market with us? 

The overall financial wealth market in Turkey is estimated to be around USD 400bn, with USD 150bn held in accounts in cross-border banks. Switzerland is emerging as the leading financial centre while London diminishes amid post-Brexit uncertainty. The Netherlands is also attractive, as the country has a very favourable double tax treaty agreement with Turkey, to be followed then in the list of preferred financial centres by Germany and the United States. The rest is held with local banks in Turkey. With the concerns of wealthy entrepreneurs and families about the social, political and economic uncertainties in Turkey acting as tailwinds for us, there is great potential to win new business. 

What strengths of Switzerland as a financial centre does the Turkish clientele particularly value?

Traditionally, Switzerland has been a wealth management hub for Turkish wealth since the 80s with Credit Suisse and UBS being the pioneers and establishing Representative Offices in Turkey some decades ago. Switzerland is valued for its longstanding expertise in wealth management, for its strong, dynamic economy, sound currency and public finances, and its political stability. 

You joined Pictet with your team from your previous employer What are the key qualities of a good manager to help their team flourish?

I always believe that a manager has to be an executer, too. Pure management focus may cause a myopia in the long term, especially when it comes to client (i.e. people) businesses. A mama lion first hunts to teach the hunting practices to her cubs. Therefore being hands on in the market and the day-to-day business, standing close to the team, clients and prospects, while always thinking of the next steps to drive growth, are key for the success of a manager. Managers should lead by executive example, hence need not only to teach but do as well.

Which strengths/ complementarities does a woman bring as a manager? 

I believe in pure equality and being complimentary to each other when it comes to gender – men are from Mars and women are from Venus but they build the space together. However I believe women have multitasking abilities in view of their natural roles within the community. As mothers, wives or daughters, we have other prime roles in life, which we embrace, fulfil and manage in tandem with our professional responsibilities. This is not to say that men cannot perform several tasks at the same time but they are not expected to do so in the community. Moreover, when it comes to banking, which by nature is a people business, I have often observed that women tend to be more accommodative and solution-oriented with internal and external stakeholders, which mostly leads to mutually satisfactory solutions for all parties – something we have in our genes. 

Do you or have you had in your life an inspiring figure who left a lasting influence on you and the way you have managed your professional life?

My grandmother, Mme Ulker Niron, was a very bright woman with a continuous drive to learn and progress – she was reading a book on Turkish grammar when she was 93 – and a strong emotional survivor in life after she lost her first child. She was also a person of balance and fairness with vast communication skills to the extent that she was a great amateur poet. I learned from her to be strong, persistent but not stubborn, to value trust and loyalty, the bliss of communication, all of these while accepting people as they are and - most importantly - hanging my ego on the hook like a coat when needed. This has often served me in my professional life as putting one’s ego aside is important when finding solutions for clients.  

Can you give us an example of one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it affect you?

I don’t usually categorise decisions as easy or  tough – decisions result from specific circumstances. Irrespective of whether they are tough or easy, one needs to act and move forward. But yes, if you ask for a specific situation, back in 2010 I was diagnosed with early stage cancer and lost my hair due to chemotherapy. I decided not to lock myself up in my house during the treatment and chose to go to the office with my bandana to meet my team and clients. Sometimes we need to take bold steps in life and when we look back we shall be very proud of those steps.

You are said to be passionate about photography of the Ottoman era – do you have a favourite photographic subject and what precisely sparked this interest?

Yes, it is an interesting story. I began my collection when I was about 17 years old – my mother is an antique collector focusing on Ottoman era glass and silver. Since my childhood, I’ve always enjoyed shopping around with her in small antique and vintage shops of Istanbul. One day I was looking for a vintage picture frame in one of these shops and I came across a frame with a beautiful portrait photo of an Ottoman lady taken in the 1830sSince then I have continued to collect photographs of women in the Ottoman era. I now hold a sizeable collection by leading 19th century photograph artists of the Ottoman Empire, namely Vasili Kargopoulo, Viçen, Hovsep and Kevork Abdullahyan (Abdullah Freres), Pascal Sebah (Sebah et Joaillier), and Bogos Tarkulyan (Phebus). 

Another of your passions is contemporary art history…

My father, like my mother, was an economist and had outstanding pencil drawings. I also have a cousin who is one of the most renowned contemporary painters in Turkey and has all the talent in the family. They were both a source of inspiration for me and I decided to at least get familiar with it and to take private lessons in art history with a focus on modern and contemporary art. As a personal discipline, the first thing I do when visiting a new city is to visit the Contemporary Art Museum. Among my favourites are Max Ernst, Mark Rothko, Frida Kahlo and Cindy Sherman.