Swiss banking group Pictet recently held a meeting for clients in a beautiful château overlooking Lake Geneva – but what messages were they sending out?
Pictet’s ‘seminaire institutionelle’, held for its French-speaking clients, was distinguished by the presence of no fewer than three of the firm’s principals: senior partner Charles Pictet (who didn’t announce he was leaving the firm until later), Jacques
de Saussure and Nicholas Johnson, investment chief at the asset management arm.
The enchanting Château de Coppet is famous as the home of 18th-century banker Jacques Necker and his even more celebrated daughter – the literary great Madame
Necker was an adviser to Louis XVI renowned for his prudence, his daughter a lady of letters whose wit and ideas were revolutionary. If Pictet’s partners were looking for reflected glory, they had come to the
Necker, who bought the 13th-century château in 1784, is an interesting figure in his own right. He was twice finance minister . Indeed, his suggestions to the king about the urgent need for strict economy – he even went so far as to cut his own salary – led him to lose his job. Financial crisis ensued in France and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s a moot point, but would Louis – whose portrait still hangs in the château – have kept his head had he taken heed of Necker’s prudent advice?
Necker might never have seen a spreadsheet, but he would surely have had opinions on today’s money management industry.
As for his daughter, Germaine, better known as Madame de Staël, she embodies the spirit of the château. A woman of letters and an early champion of women’s rights and slave emancipation, she was clearly ahead of her time and something of a revolutionary. When her father died, she turned the Château de Coppet into the HQ of a movement against Napoleon.
Pictet presented delegates with a book on her life and achievements.
But how much of Necker’s financial prudence and Madame de Staël’s radicalism rubbed off on the delegates is open to question.