Brexit 'just a short-term domestic problem' says UK boss of Swiss bank Julius Baer

David Durlacher (right), chief executive of Julius Baer International, with the company's regional head Jonathan Dobbin
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE head of the first-ever Swiss company to invest in Northern Ireland insists Brexit is "just a short-term domestic problem" and is having "no bearing whatsoever" on international investment.

And David Durlacher, chief executive of Zurich-based private bank Julius Baer International, which opened a Belfast branch in November 2017, claims the growing number of local entrepreneurs "prefer to have a global mindset - not local".

He was speaking to the Irish News during a visit to Belfast to meet clients of the company, which has a history dating back to the the 1890s and which today has around 6,000 staff in more than 50 locations, including five in the UK (where it has had a presence for 50 years).

Since establishing a Belfast base, and then recently opening a new bricks and mortar operation in Bedford House, Julius Baer claims to be "well ahead of target" in growing a local client base of high-end and ultra high-end worth individuals (it offers investment advice and discretionary asset management for people with more than £1 million).

Mr Durlacher, a career banker who has been in his current role for more than two years, says the firm's Belfast clients aren't particularly exercised at the current political or economic volatility at home.

He said: "Where ever you are in the world there will always be political nuances, and I'm sure in past generations is was exactly the same. So sometimes being Swiss and 'boring' is a good thing - you are able to stand back from the hullabaloo."

He described the Brexit situation as "a short-term domestic problem in the bigger picture".

"We are trying to bring a global influence to local wealth, and see Brexit as very much contained within a UK and Europe dimension. I don't hear Brexit coming up other than on an anecdotal scale. A significant exposure for most of our clients is outside the UK, so for us is it easy to pull back from domestic politics."

Julius Baer's regional head Jonathan Dobbin said he is "immensely proud" of the company's niche position in the local market, and insists there is "more than adequate opportunities" to grow its client base here.

He said: "For us it is about quality not quantity. Clients with significant amounts of wealth tend to be more complex, and we want to ensure we give them precisely what they need. You can't do that if you have hundreds of clients. We will continue to be niche and to set the bar high, but will back that up with exemplary levels of service and world class investment performance."

Mr Dobbin added: "It's easy to get lost in the doom and gloom of uncertainty, but there is a huge amount we can be proud of here. Launching the first Swiss business in Northern Ireland at a time of great uncertainty is a shining example of a global firm which is prepared to look at the long term picture and push short-term uncertainty to one side.

"The local economy isn't struggling as badly as some would have you believe. We've had a couple of new stock market listings through Diaceutics and Fusion Antibodies, while Kainos has just broken into the FTSE 250 and continues to knock out fantastic results. Also, First Derivatives continues to go from strength to strength.

"New industries are also emerging in cyber security and fintech, so this small place is becoming recognised as a global leader, and we need to talk up all that is good about Northern Ireland and its economy and not get too pessimistic."

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