Banker and philanthropist Marc Pictet is walking in the steps of his uncle Ivan after taking over as president of the Fondation pour Genève in 2020. He speaks to Geneva Solutions.
Geneva’s financial sector, from its wealth managers to trade financiers and commercial banking actors, accounts for around 35,000 jobs in the city and 13 per cent of its economy. The well-stocked coffers of its centuries-old private banking dynasties have also helped give rise to International Geneva, its foundations and philanthropic activities – among them the Pictet Group.
Marc Pictet, managing partner at the family firm, is one of the newest faces of this finance-meets-multilateralism after taking the helm two years ago of the Fondation pour Genève. He speaks to Geneva Solutions about carrying on this legacy from his uncle Ivan Pictet, one of International Geneva’s leading advocates, and the role of the finance sector in shaping its future.
It has been two years since you took over as president of the Fondation Pour Genève. How do you see the future of both the Foundation and International Geneva?
To answer this question, we have to ask what is the future of multilateralism? Of globalisation? But also, what is the future of Switzerland, our institutions, the solidity of our system and finally, our neutrality? Time will show us the answer to these questions. Whatever the future brings, the Fondation pour Genève will continue to work alongside the Swiss and Geneva authorities in favour of international Geneva, by mobilising the private sector, and coming up with innovative solutions. I’m a firm believer that public-private partnerships, like the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) or the Portail des Nations [a new welcome centre for International Geneva due to open in 2025 -ed.], are the way to go.
The finance sector’s commitment to International Geneva has been linked to very committed personalities like Ivan Pictet. Do you see yourself walking into his steps?
I can’t say that I’m anywhere close to the achievements of Ivan Pictet but (I do have) the willingness to continue on his path.
Some of the ways the Fondation pour Genève is doing this is by promoting a set of expertise in Geneva, for example, through our reports on International Geneva’s response to climate change, global health, and so on. We also welcome international employees, ambassadors and diplomats through the International Circle of the Fondation pour Genève, the Diplomatic Club and the Réseau d’Accueil (CAGI). Our network, with the help of 100 volunteers among which our board members, does notable ground work and organises more than 300 events yearly, to welcome and integrate these expatriates in Geneva hoping that when they will leave they will become our ambassadors around the world and talk about Geneva not only being a welcoming place but also a place where you can build bridges, learn and have an impact.
You are dedicating your time for the Fondation Pour Geneve while also working as managing partner of Pictet. How do you find juggling these two responsibilities?
When Ivan Pictet came and asked me if I was interested in this role, he said: “If it matters to you, you always find time.” And he was right. Going beyond that, the role also helps bring a fresh perspective to my day-to-day job. Having access to Tatiana Valovaya, the director general of the UN in Geneva, as well as the heads of other UN agencies and many other figures provides another viewpoint on the same issues. Climate change keeps us very busy as a wealth allocator, but also global health, and so on. So, we exchange different views but complementary views.
Today’s challenges are huge and they are global. How can Geneva’s financial centre better contribute to addressing them?
Sustainable finance is clearly one of the answers and Geneva has become a hub leading in this field. With its secular expertise in asset management, the presence of major NGOs and international organisations, but also its multinationals, Geneva’s ecosystem is second to none in the world. An illustration of this is that Geneva will host from 3 to 6 October Building Bridges for its third edition. Placed under the patronage of the UN and the Swiss Confederation, Building Bridges has been setting the international agenda for sustainability ever since its inception in 2019. Geneva has the perfect ecosystem to link finance and the SDGs.
Does Pictet currently have projects involving UN bodies or Geneva-based NGOs?
The goals of the Pictet Group Foundation are geared towards initiatives worldwide with a focus on nutrition and access to water. The Foundation also provides financial support to respond to humanitarian challenges and have been long supporting major humanitarian institutions in Geneva, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as Geneva-based NGOs active internationally. At a local level, the Foundation also supports a number of social charities, as well as major cultural institutions such as the Grand Théâtre. We also organise activities where our 5,000-plus employees can give some of their time to helping certain causes.
Geneva has a long history and culture of philanthropy and giving, in part thanks to the wealth the city has fostered as a financial hub. How do you see this evolving?
Philanthropy used to be about giving and doing good through donations. But now we’re moving into what I consider to be equally or more interesting, which is this model of doing good but also doing well, meaning that you enter a project and this project needs to be sustainable by itself after a certain period of time. It’s more of a win-win instead of having a dependency which can become dangerous for an organisation over time.