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Wealth Manager: Brown Shipley's new director on his plan to take London

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by Danielle Levy on Jun 20, 2013 at 00:01

Brown Shipley executive director Robert Smoker is something of a rarity in the wealth management industry, boasting a career that spans over 35 years at the same institution.

Having joined the firm in the late 1970s as a corporate banker, he has watched Brown Shipley undergo a transformation over the years from a merchant bank into a full service private bank and wealth manager.

‘I started at Brown Shipley in 1977, when it was what you would know at the time as a merchant bank and part of the accepting houses – so the days when the odd bowler hat did still wander around the City. We were far more of a commercial trade bank with private banking as part of the service offering,’ Smoker recalls.

The transition gathered pace from 1992 after Brown Shipley was acquired by European bank KBL and undertook a series of acquisitions, including stockbroker Cawood Smithie, private client investment manager Henry Cooke and pensions and investment manager Fairmount Group.

Over the period, Smoker progressed within the management structure, including a stint as head of corporate banking and credit, before taking on executive responsibility for risk and compliance in 2001.

Last July saw the purchase of Brown Shipley’s parent group, KBL European Banks, by Precision Capital, a Qatari-backed firm based in Luxembourg.

KBL was formerly owned by KBC Group. Smoker says following a review of the business he was given an opportunity to move back to the front office to help spearhead what the company hopes will prove a new growth era.

As head of the London front office, he now oversees the investment management, banking, financial planning and pensions teams.

‘We had a series of reviews and management changes towards the end of last year, with the result being an opportunity to come back to the front office and a return from the dark side. We put some effort into the growth of the London office, where we see tremendous potential for 2013 and beyond,’ he explains.

He acknowledges the review was not a painless exercise, notably marked by a reduction in headcount and changes to the board late last year. However, this was seen as a necessary step to position the bank for future growth.

‘It was part of a process of looking at the business and how we wanted to structure and position it moving into 2013 and beyond,’ Smoker adds.

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