International expertise needs more than language skills

How Alex Noellenburg and his colleagues in Commerzbank's International Wealth Management service their customers

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Maike Steinmüller

Commerzbank

Alex Noellenburg in the departure hall of Frankfurt Airport
Alex Noellenburg at Frankfurt Airport on his way to Latin America. There he will be able to meet his customers in person. Copyright: Alexandra Lechner
Alex Noellenburg and the "International Wealth Management" team advise wealthy clients from 126 countries on investment and real estate financing in Germany.

"Olá! Aqui fala o Alex": When Alex Noellenburg calls his Brazilian customers in Portuguese at home, he only answers with "Hello! Here Alex speaks." He does not mention Commerzbank. And he does not mention his full name either. His reasoning: "I grew up in Brazil. I know the fear of the Latin Americans of raids and kidnappings. My wealthy customers don't want untrustworthy domestic workers to know about their bank accounts abroad over the phone."

Alex and his colleagues in the field of International Wealth Management look after wealthy clients from all over the world with their sense of intercultural peculiarities. Assets under management currently amount to 2.4 billion euros. The clients are often entrepreneurs who maintain business relations with Germany and invest their money in securities or real estate. The team also advises German customers who want to move abroad.

Languages as a door opener in the care of foreign customers

It is obvious that a department like this employs many people from different cultures. Portuguese is one of ten languages spoken in a team. "Anyone who can exchange ideas not only in business English, but in the local language, is a door opener for new contacts that should not be underestimated. And it also strengthens the existing relationships," says Benjamin Waskönig, head of International Wealth Management.

The customers come from no less than 126 countries. Eight percent of them are at home in Latin America. The largest customer group lives in Switzerland. "In Latin America, there is always political and economic unrest," says Alex. "This increases the risk of hyperinflation, of bank crises and account lockdowns." Germany is therefore one of the safe investment ports for its customers. Alex usually uses conservative investments in one of Commerzbank's asset management companies. When it comes to investing in real estate, he helps with the search and financing."

In contrast to the care of wealthy private customers in Germany, international guidelines and sanctions must be observed when dealing with customers abroad. And the targets have been more than less for years. Therefore, the team has regular contact with colleagues in Group Legal and Group Audit, Risk & Compliance. They keep an eye on the law in force to protect the bank from risks and penalties – the keyword being the prevention of money laundering or terrorist financing.

Alex talks to his colleagues, for example, when a large asset is to be invested as security for a loan with Commerzbank. "The customer must be able to explain to us the origin of the money plausibly," says Alex. "LEGAL checks for us whether in this case a deposit can be pledged as security at all." In accordance with the basic rule "Know Your Customer", i.e. the identification and verification of new and existing customers, International Wealth Management only does business with a customer, If the can prove a connection to Germany. In addition to German citizenship, this can be, for example, the connection to German business partners.

Contact persons also for colleagues in the bank

"Designing our team as a living manual in this field may be a little exaggerated," says Benjamin, smiling. "However, with our knowledge, we are happy to be the point of contact for all colleagues in the bank who have contact with customers with an international background. We have answers to questions such as: May the consultation take place on site or must it take place in Germany? Where is a signature to be signed? Or how can loans be secured?" Alex adds that, for example, they are not allowed to offer every asset management in every country.

The so important networking with local customers – including embassies or chambers of commerce – could not take place in pandemic times. "I'm glad that this is possible again, says Alex. "A relationship manager prefers to cultivate his relationships personally." 10,000 kilometers from here he knows some customers better than those in Europe. "This is simply because Latin Americans want to spend as much time as possible with their bank advisors. They like to show their company and lands. Afterwards they invite you to eat with the extended family." While he is Mr. Alex Noellenburg of Commerzbank for his European customers, "I am introduced here: 'That's Alex, my friend. He helps me at Commerzbank to invest my money well’. And in no time at all, you've won a new customer."

Portrait Alexander Noellenburg

Alexander Noellenburg

Executive Relationship Manager

Alex has served international wealthy clients since his training at Commerzbank in Frankfurt in 1998. In International Wealth Management, he is responsible for clients from Latin America, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Austria. Alex was born in Rio de Janeiro and grew up in Sao Paulo. His father headed the offices of Commerzbank in both cities in Brazil.

Portrait Benjamin Waskönig

Benjamin Waskönig

Head of International Wealth Management

Benjamin has been with Commerzbank since 1997. After completing his banking training, he completed part-time courses and graduated with the Executive Master of Business Administration. This was followed by various management tasks in sales. Since October 2021, Benjamin has been head of International Wealth Management.

International Wealth Management …

… advises wealthy clients from all over the world on investment and real estate financing in Germany and also advises German clients who want to move abroad. The core team is based in Frankfurt. However, advice is also available at the wealth management locations in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart. The special expertise of the employees: They know the increasingly complex country-specific rules and laws that must be observed in these transactions.

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