Humility is a characteristic we rarely associate with leading lights of global business families. But Karam Hinduja comes from no ordinary family. A descendant of S.P. Hinduja, the famed British-Indian magnate whose interests span continents and diverse industries, from banking to trucking, Karam Hinduja wears an air of modesty, unusual among today’s business elite.
In interviews he is quick to emphasise the value of honest toil, deeply rooted in him despite his gilded beginnings. Raised in close proximity to the family business empire, work and family life were always interlinked for Hinduja—a joining of personal and professional that gives him an acute sense of purpose in life.
“Of course, I completely recognise that I’ve grown up in a privileged environment. I don’t have to work to put food on the table and for that I am extremely grateful,” Hinduja says.“The concept of work is a means to an end; but the end doesn’t need to be food on the table. I’m fortunate that it can be for something more. It can be for something greater that affects other people and can bring some sort of value to the world at large.”
“Your work is your life,” he adds matter-of-factly.“Not in a negative way, but you’re working towards a single mission, whether you’re doing that in the office or outside of office hours—it’s one and the same. There’s a mission that’s driving you and it totally consumes your entire purpose.”
Hinduja’s eyes burn brightly with talk of a mission. No more so than when the conversation turns to his role as CEO of his family’s Swiss bank, S.P. Hinduja Banque Privée (SPH). After taking over the reins this year, Hinduja has led the bank’s re-branding to bear the name of its founder. It was intended as a clear signal of his commitment to furthering the values that have guided the bank throughout its existence, while renewing its purpose for a new chapter.
In the world of Swiss banking, continuity has long been king. But Karam Hinduja has approached the role of CEO with a striking ambition to embrace change and cater to the changing profile of high net-worth investors (HNWIs). His stated mission? To redefine the meaning of wealth management for today’s entrepreneurs and business families who are poorly served by the traditional industry.
Hinduja believes that the incumbent private banking sector is less relevant to clients with interests outside of long-established banking hubs in the U.S. and Europe, or to clients with entrepreneurial investment strategies. In his eyes, the sector is crying out for a new direction and SPH’s status as the first Indian-owned Swiss bank, boasting longstanding connections to emerging markets, makes it ideally placed to lead the change.
Much of Hinduja’s refreshed strategy for SPH hangs on what he sees as a fundamentally new attitude to wealth among today’s HNWIs. In the face of catastrophic climate change and social strife, he argues, ESG factors are now seen as core considerations of any portfolio. Supporting sustainable development and alleviating social injustices is both a moral and economic imperative that should actively concern them and the way the manage their money.
“Today’s investors understand that wealth is about more than merely financial returns. True value is rooted in adherence to social and environmental principles that enhance the state of people and planet,” Hinduja says.“As a bank, we are really looking to align with individuals, families, businesses that share our outlook—by trying to bring value to the world and by seeing business essentially as a mechanism and vehicle for realising their principles.”
Drawing on his own background in ESG investing as the founder of impact investment platform, Karma, Hinduja has laid out a strategy that aims to combine an ethical focus with outsize returns. Risks related to climate change, social forces and corruption should be core considerations for any investor, and SPH’s ESG portfolios put those risks at the centre of their long-term outlook. Two new funds with ESG certification and focussed on tackling the climate emergency have attracted significant interest from clients, according to Hinduja, while an option to create bespoke ESG portfolios based on investors’ personal priorities offers clients flexibility and a personal service.
The four-decade-old financial institution is charting a new course under the new CEO, but one that remains guided by the values of its founder. “Our founder always believed it to be our duty to advance the cause of humankind. His philosophy of ‘I work so that I can give’ has coloured my own approach to the bank. He has always placed his trust in innovation and new ways of thinking to future challenges—I am trying to do the same,” he says.
Any innovation involves a degree of risk. But Karam Hinduja’s efforts to push the banking sector forward and embrace the evolving demands of HNWIs promise hugely consequential returns—for our planet and for all the people that inhabit it.
When asked how he measures personal success at SPH, Hinduja again demurs with characteristic humility: “In my view, success can only be defined collectively and by the impact we have on other people and the world.”