Banking on the future

By John C. Bruening ’86

For many global bankers, the world consists of esoteric mechanisms and processes such as fixed exchange rates, yield equivalence, liquidity diversification, and speculative securities that are part of managing large sums of money. For Catherine (Mullaney) Weir ’79, head of Citi Private Bank’s global family office group since 2011, international banking is much simpler – it’s about family. Weir helps manage the wealth of families that run large businesses worldwide.

“Business families – Morgan, Mellon, Buffett, Gates – have shaped many aspects of business and society,” Weir says. “This same phenomenon is occurring throughout the world as growth and globalization expand. There’s an unprecedented generational wealth transfer under way, and it will influence many economies as it occurs. This transfer requires planning and management to ensure preservation and performance.”

Just as families are different, the nature of the family office is different for each family. The purpose – the efficient management and administration of private assets – is the same, but it can mean managing a family’s business interests and large investment portfolios. The family office can help families develop new business via private equity and angel funding.

“Increasingly, establishing foundations and meeting philanthropic objectives is one of our key responsibilities,” Weir says. “We also manage personal assets such as properties, planes, and art.”

Weir

Weir and her colleagues see significant trends in these areas, particularly as the next generation of decision makers steps into place and takes a leading role developing and executing investment decisions.

“The trend toward more private equity and angel investing is stark and likely to continue,” Weir says, citing the momentum of the EnGen, an abbreviated phrase referencing what she calls the energetic generation. “This generation is taking over and driving the entrepreneurial spirit of families with the help of world-class education and exposure to best practices worldwide. It’s exciting and likely to continue for decades to come. Philanthropic goals are increasingly important to families, especially for this next generation. Many of the best practices of notable American families, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, are being adopted throughout the world.”

The financial crisis of 2008 reshaped the banking industry. While the nexus of the problems can be traced to an identifiable core, factors such as globalization, modern technology, flow of capital, and the high level of communication connectivity have had a ripple effect.

“These forces are irreversible, and the industry will adjust,” Weir says. “This is all the more reason why a family office is so crucial – to ensure organized management of assets in an increasingly dynamic world.”

Weir describes her international career as an adventure, starting in London and taking her to Asia and Switzerland, which she describes as the centerpiece around which the Eurozone adjusts itself and where she and her husband, Jim Weir ’78, make their home. Catherine and Jim and their two sons – Alex, 19, and Dominic, 16 – have experienced exciting and challenging times. The Weirs maintain that a solid family foundation helps them navigate through difficult times. The Weir family extends to John Carroll, which plays a big part of who they are.

“We have, on both sides of our families, a tremendous legacy with John Carroll,” Catherine says. “The people we met at Carroll and the quality education of a Jesuit university are invaluable when it comes to coping with the changes and experiences we’ve had.”

Catherine’s success and longevity in the industry stem from her consistently positive outlook and perseverance in an industry where women remain underrepresented. Still, gender has never been a factor in her decision-making process throughout her career.

“It’s very difficult to find a woman at Catherine’s level of seniority who has accumulated such experience and sustained the pace,” Jim says. “She can juggle a lot at once, but our family is our priority. We saw her career as a chance for the boys to experience the world up close and appreciate different cultures and societies.”

Despite the setbacks in the global economy during the past several years, Catherine’s outlook for the next decade is optimistic. As Europe continues the process of resetting itself economically, Asia is adjusting to the developed world’s changes and shifting to domestic growth strategies. As other growth markets determine their political and economic models, she’s optimistic about the U.S.

“America will lead the next five to seven years,” she says. “Setting aside the fact that I’m an American working for an American multinational bank, this will be a positive cycle for the United States. A lot of opportunity will appear, and staying alert and acting on those opportunities is the key.” JCU


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