Bob McCann, CEO of UBS Wealth Management Americas, shares his insights on philanthropy and business in Ireland and America


“One thing that we have to fix, and we have to fix this quickly: big institutions have failed us. It isn’t just companies. Government leaders have failed, sports stars have failed. I’m Roman Catholic; the Catholic Church has failed people. Wall Street, big banks – organizations that are an important part of the cultural fabric –  have failed people. Whether it’s how the pope leads or how the president leads, when people are given positions of responsibility and influence, whether you are a professional athlete or you’re running a business … People turned their children over to the church and the church violated that trust. People put their money in banks and we violated their trust as an industry, and we’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to do the right thing.”

For McCann, doing the right thing in his industry means empowering clients to reengage in their financial planning and restoring their confidence in investments. His vision for working towards this goal is personal, and probably at odds with how many consumers imagine the priorities of investment agencies. “I think the biggest thing we can do is taking the time to really get to know our clients and understand them,” he says. “Clients don’t want to be sold products. Clients want somebody who can sit with them in a room and get to know them inside and out, talk with them and figure out their hopes, their dreams, their fears. And then work with them to come up with a game plan for them as to how they’re going to live their life and how they’re going to invest their money. You know, many decisions in life have a financial element. Life isn’t all about money, but let’s not be naive. To make many of the big decisions in life that you want to make, you have to be aware and understand what your financial position is. … the mistake that you make as an industry is when we sell people things. I’ve always felt that products are just the building blocks that we use. What we’re really trying to do for a client is get them in a position where they understand what they have, they understand the risk of everything they own, that there’s a game plan with the client, with the client involved with the financial advisors to execute it.

“I have a saying that I use here internally, that most big decisions are made at the kitchen table. My kitchen table is bigger than the one I grew up with. But the fundamental act of sitting down as a family to talk and decide things is still happening. And I think the best financial advisors in the world have a seat at the clients’ kitchen table. Sometimes it’s in a kitchen, sometimes it’s in a boardroom, sometimes it's in a restaurant, but it’s a position of trust that they hold you to. We need to do that all the time and we need to have more people do it. People had a life-changing experience in the last couple years. They thought they were in a certain place in life financially and then all of a sudden the markets and the world changed and they were in a very different place than they had been. It’s very important that we understand that trauma and the impact that it had on people, and help them reengage. Because you can’t put your head in the sand and just walk away. A lot of people quit opening their statements, quit being willing to make decisions, and as a human being I understand that. But it’s our job as an industry, it’s our job here at UBS to help people start to reengage, and that’s what we’re doing.”

With his personal approach, determination to bridge differences and fervor for learning, Bob McCann seems like the kind of leader we need.