Dominic Gamble got his first taste of working in banking when he was only 16 – but by his early 30s he’d had enough of “all the paper work” and decided to leave the sector. Singapore-based Gamble is now in the matchmaking business, running a website, findawealthmanager.com, which helps rich people locate the best managers for their money.
“While I left banking still fairly young, I’d actually wanted a banking career since I was a teenager. When I was 16 I asked a family friend if I could shadow him for a week on the trading floor at Credit Agricole in London,” says Gamble. “It was more open outcry back then and it was like being on another planet – experiencing that exciting environment made me even more determined to eventually work in the industry.”
He kept up his Credit Agricole connections while a student at the London School of Economics and got a job on the French firm’s fixed-income sales desk after graduating in 2001. “I was there for two years and that time really helped to shape my whole career – it was a very pressurised environment and being able to deal with that type of pressure early on stood me in good stead.”
Why did Gamble then join Credit Suisse’s London private banking unit? “I could see that Credit Suisse was investing more in private banking and that it was a growing sector generally – and has become even more so since the financial crisis. While I found it slower moving than investment banking at first, I also loved the focus on building long-term relationships with clients.”
Gamble’s stint at Credit Suisse lasted a full seven years before he moved to Deutsche Bank in 2010. “It paid dividends for me not only committing to private banking early in my career but also sticking around at one firm. Private bankers – certainly here in Asia these days – tend to move around too much, but it’s a relationship-driven business and it’s hard to establish a name for yourself with clients if you don’t stay put somewhere.”
By 2011, however, Gamble was tiring of private banking and he left Deutsche to set up his website, which was initially focused on the UK market. “There were definitely push factors – the landscape had changed so much over the previous 10 years. I wasn’t bouncing out of bed to start work as I used to – I was dreading all the paperwork that had become an increasing part of my job.”
Meanwhile, like many bankers seeking an exit from the sector, Gamble says he had aspirations to be an entrepreneur. “I reached a stage where I could either take a risk now or commit to another decade in banking. If I waited longer I would have been more senior and more tied in with stock options. I know I lot of bankers who want to jump but say they can’t because they’ll lose too much money – I didn’t want to get to that point.”
Last year Gamble and his family relocated to Singapore to open his company’s second office. Findawealthmanager now has four employees in both Singapore and London and boasts about 50 clients, including major private banks. “We choose Singapore because it’s a hub for Asian private banking. You can reach the whole region – even more so than from Hong Kong, which manages more money but is very focused just on China.”
While Gamble describes his work as “incredibly stimulating” he also says running a business is more demanding than working in banking. “Most bankers just don’t realise how stressful it is to work in fintech. Sure, there are politics and targets to deal with in a bank, but as a fintech entrepreneur you don’t have job security – you have to really eat what you kill and enjoy pressure and taking responsibility for everything.”
The private banking sector in Asia does have its own set of stresses, however. “It’s a more competitive industry to work in than in Europe. Cost/income ratios are high for some Western banks in Asia, whose operations are essentially loss leaders,” says Gamble.
He adds: “The streets aren’t as paved with gold as you may think. Private wealth is increasing, but wealthy people here made their fortunes by building up businesses and they aren’t so inclined to give their hard-earned money to a private banker and talk to them every three months. They want a more hands-on approach, which means the more profitable 'discretionary' European private banking model isn’t as popular in Asia. The less stable 'advisory' model prevails, although UBS, for example, is trying to redress the balance.”
Should these challenges dissuade young people from aspiring to become private bankers? “Not at all – it’s still a great career, especially if you’re local, and Asia is still the main growth market globally. But the linguistic and culture issues of serving clients in emerging Asian markets mean that Western bankers can’t just roll up here and expect to get jobs.”