Itinerary of a spoiled child

Solenne Niedercorn-Desouches
8 min readApr 9, 2020

From Private Banking to FinTech

It all started in 1996, at the “Flandrin” restaurant in Paris … The day I decided to follow the same path as the others rather than following my own desires … Much more reassuring indeed …Certainly for comfort reasons and probably due to lack of maturity, I did like many of my friends and followed an education in management, then in Finance…

So here I am, planned career path in Private Banking. Graduate Training then High Potential Programs. Vanity Matrix skyrocketing for me … But complete lack of reflection on what deeply motivated me. This period lasted from 2003 to 2015.

I was fortunate enough to be initiated by my husband to “Tech”. Which allowed me to start a career change in 2015 in the “Tech” industry: RegTech, then FinTech…

17 years later, I have the feeling that I am finally in the right place … well … the moment may not necessarily be well chosen …

My objective here is twofold:

  • On the one hand, retrace through my relatively “standard” professional career in this sector, the rapid and brutal evolution of the profession of Banker and particularly Private Banker.
  • On the other hand, try to identify how Tech and StartUps in the “FinTech” sector currently allow and will allow the cards to be redistributed, I hope for the best, in Private Banking.

What is the daily life of a Private Banker?

In a rather crude manner, the profession of Private Banker is centered around wealth management in the broad sense:

  • On the one hand, asset management of: listed assets (traditional and non-traditional such as derivatives) and unlisted assets (Private Equity, Real Estate, etc.), taking into account the risk of the client with a tax efficient approach.
  • On the other hand, support in structuring assets directly with the client, its adviser(s), family office and / or portfolio manager(s) (employed by the Bank or Independent). This implies a multiplicity of stakeholders and complex heritage configurations.

Private clients have many issues related to the complexity of their heritage. Many of them are entrepreneurs, investors, business angels. The profession of Private Banker requires extensive knowledge in tax matters, corporate law, and cross-border issues.

2003–2006, last years of the “old school” Private Bank

In 2003, working in Belgium in Private Banking was the traditional way. Quite aligned with what had been done the previous 20 years. Managing portfolios in bull markets was exciting and allowed us to be quite creative and get nice performances.

2005, end of banking secrecy

It took pressure from French or Belgian governments (and many others) to “blow up” banking secrecy and bring clarity to all of this…

The Belgian law of December 31, 2003 establishing a single release declaration allowing people to legally regularize their tax situation by declaring certain assets not yet known to the tax authorities, with payment of a single contribution of 6% or 9%. Thanks to the completion of these formalities, the taxpayer benefited from a triple immunity, at the same time fiscal, social and penal for the assets thus declared.

Considerable assets were transferred to Belgium from Luxembourg and Switzerland. It was the same in France and in many other European countries. (NB: Not mentioning the Madoff epi-phenomenon which made me particularly critical of investment funds with extraordinary performances).

  • First major breakthrough:

- European Private Clients are taxed regardless of their European place of residence. The concept of banking secrecy has completely disappeared in Europe.

2007, subprime mortgage crisis

I remember having given (with my good-old buddy Pierre) a presentation on structured products at a dinner in front of a customer floor. Presentation which had led to investments in our clients’ portfolios in Structured Products which we had built with options and an underlying “Lehman” certificate. Two weeks later, started the “subprime mortgage crisis” with its major consequences: gate provisions on Hedge Funds, structured products with zero valuations, falling stock prices and spectacular losses in all portfolios — all asset classes combined: stocks, bonds, etc.

  • Second major breakthrough:

- The MiFID Directive has been reviewed in light of the developments in financial markets and products, but also to take into account the lessons of the crisis. In particular, the new provisions of the MiFID 2 Directive to strengthen existing protection measures and create new ones.

- The implementation of the European passport, allowing customers to deposit their assets in different European countries, regardless of their place of residence. Asset management can be performed transparently regardless of the country … but in 2009 few Banks are able to promote these set-ups.

  • First conclusion:

- Besides the fact that I do not think being the best asset manager (at all), I made the firm decision in 2009 to stop managing portfolios in my entire life … Not even mine.


2011–2015, splendours of Private Banking and development of VCs and Angel Investors

Then I moved to Luxembourg in 2011. Employee #1 in a micro-team responsible for the opening the Luxembourg office of a Bank. In addition to the extraordinary entrepreneurial experience that this launch meant and the European developments generated by this financial institution, we have all seen the banking landscape transforming in Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The end of banking secrecy triggered structural changes in the environment of Private Banking and Wealth Management. Customers have rejuvenated. Now more international, they increase their investments in Venture Capital funds, further structure their investments and ask for more efficient online tools. The institution in which I was employed very fortunately understood these challenges and responded to them with great professionalism.

But it was also during this period that the FinTech sector began to emerge … Very far from Bankers but so close to their Customers’ pain points …

  • Third major breakthrough:

- Booming of unlisted investments, developments of VC funds, competing with Private Banking.

- The FinTech sector is emerging. In Banks, Clients have “old-fashioned” and dated tools while they are already using Apps’ like Instagram or Facebook.

-The notions of Environmental and Social Responsibility start to emerge in Banks.

  • Second conclusion:

- I don’t want to miss my professional life a second time. No matter how, I have to join the “Tech” industry.


2015–2018, launched and crashed my StartUp

In 2015, I am still employed in a Private Bank and I decide to start a business in the “Digital Sector” … I did not want to miss a second time my chance.

When I returned from the hospital after the birth of our daughter, I immediately drove to the notary to constitute my first company … with our 3-day-old daughter huddled in her maxi-cozy.

And there, it is the beginning of an extraordinary adventure: I move from the distribution of a white label SaaS offering online appointments for doctors to different ideas, POC, MVP: shower booking project, buddy search solution for running, to finally launch a second-hand market place in Luxembourg:

Accompanied by a Luxembourg StartUp accelerator, I was able to receive many quality advice, training and coaching of all kinds … But the world I came from was SO FAR from this world that I definitely missed my chance … There were so many concepts to discover, skills to learn with the desire to release a product quickly. I will certainly come back to this in a future article.

  • Lessons learned:

- It is never too late to change your professional path, but never without sacrifices, e.g. loss of income.

- In “Tech”, employees are literally “OBSESSED” by their Customers, trying to solve pain points.

- The two worlds: “Banking” and “Tech” are truly contradictory. Collaboration can happen but requires a lot of concessions from both sides.

  • Third conclusion:

- I have an entrepreneurial spirit but I am unable to work alone. In any case, if you want to start alone a “Tech” Business, either you have to learn how to code or you must find a Tech-Savy co-founder, in other words a CTO (Chief Technology Officer), which I was clearly missing.

- Nowadays, it is crucial to have a continuous learning process.

- I accept professional failure, I learn lessons and I use it to move forward.


2017–2019, working in a StartUp

In 2017, I joined a newly created StartUp. The experienced entrepreneurs (whom I thank by the way) trusted me and despite the gigantic cultural difference, hired me as Product Manager. I had to format my brain and the way I worked. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was easy. However, I had to learn new work methods, a new mindset and remain humble.

StartUps operate in a “LEAN” mode. They take disproportionate risks unlike more traditional businesses. This methodology allows unparalleled responsiveness and truly adapts to Customers’ needs.

Since 2019, independence

These structuring and truly rich experiences allowed me to confirm my need to pursue various activities in different companies, hence my need for independence to support StartUps under development in their transformation into regulated entities for ex.

My observations are as follows:

Many can become entrepreneurs, but few have the capacity to develop successful StartUps. The obsession required to solve the problem of customers / users must truly inhabit the founder. And that is not given to everyone. But it’s OK!

What’s next?

For Private Banks:

- They must continue their transformation and offer appropriate tools to their Clients or most will disappear. And that will necessarily go through major efforts in mindset, organisation changes.

- They must collaborate with FinTech Startups at all costs to evolve quickly.

- They must focus on their Customers’ needs especially in these uncertain times. Service is where their strength is.

For FinTech StartUps:

- They will necessarily need institutional investors to climb up the slope in the coming months to survive.

- They can rely on the infrastructure set up by the banks, their solidity, which many of them have not yet all implemented — aka: risk management and monitoring methodology, fraud prevention, etc.

- They must focus on their Products especially in these uncertain times, that’s where their strength is.


- Learn with The Family → Strong focus on Education

- StartUp / VC / Angels to follow Y Combinator, Roxanne Varza, Alice Zagury, Fabrice Marsella, StartUp UK influencers, UK VC to know, Top EU Angel Investors

- FinTech influencers to follow : Anne Boden, Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Florian Graillot, Marcel Van Oost, Panagiotis Kriaris, Efi Pylarinou, Oliver Bussmann, Jim Marous, Alexandre Guillot, Neira Jones

- Be inspired by Tim Ferriss, Jean de la Rochebrochard, Erik Thorenberg

- Try inspiring newsletters: Benedict Evans, Alexandre Dana (FR), Nicolas Colin, Chris Skinner’s Blog

- Read: Who, The Lean StartUp, Play Bigger, Blitzscaling

- Listen : GDIY (FR), Generation XX (FR), How I Built This with Guy Raz, Masters of scale, La Galère (FR), FinTech Insider Podcast, The 20 minute VC, Equity 101 (FR)

- My local touch (Luxembourg): Luxembourg House of FinTech, Nasir Zubairi, Lux PE & VC Association, Fundraiser@BA: Nicolas Valaize

- Watch Silicon Valley, Netflix Documentaries on StartUps



Solenne Niedercorn-Desouches

Executive in the Financial Industry | Private Banking and FinTech Specialist | Passionate about Digital StartUps VC and Tech.