ValueWalk Q&A with Richard Lewis, President – Insignia U.S.; Managing Director, New Markets. In this interview, Richard discusses his and his company’s background, how Insignia generates income, why they are just now entering the U.S. market, the growth of their Asian network, what the clients think about Leon Cooperman’s response to Elizabeth Warren on wealth tax, the correlation to their business and stock returns, trends among the ultra-high net worth, and simplifying the complexities of modern life with Insignia.
Richard brings his vast experience of 15 distinguished years in hospitality and luxury travel services to lead Insignia US, providing of best-in-class service to Insignia’s ultra-elite clients.
Can you tell us about your background?
Based between London and New York, I work as the U.S. President and Managing Director of Western Markets for Insignia Group of Companies. I bring over 15 years of rich and varied experience to this role. Throughout my career, I have worked consistently in the luxury market, including senior positions at Virgin Atlantic and The Ritz Carlton Hotel Group. Having worked in the United States, EMEA and Asia Pacific, my experience traverses airlines, luxury hotels and lifestyle management. I have vast operational experience and am passionate about enhancing customer relationships, building organizational capabilities, developing business efficiencies, and managing our network of high-net-worth stakeholders.
What about your company?
Insignia launched in 1996 as a travel-related service and payment card provider. We have since grown into an all-encompassing luxury lifestyle management group with a global presence.
Our exceptional super premium card service is delivered via a dedicated Personal Assistant, available to our clients 24/7, 365 days a year. We enhance our members' day-to-day lives through bespoke experiences and lifestyle services. Our team takes care of every aspect of our members' lives, so they can focus on what really matters to them. For our clients, time is one of the greatest luxuries. Our Personal Assistants can secure impossible restaurant reservations, find tickets to leading events and arrange bucket-list-worthy holidays. For the past two decades, Insignia has delivered the highest caliber of products and services shrouded in a vow of discretion to ensure our members’ privacy is always protected.
How do your services differ from let’s say for example the American Express Black Card?
The team at Insignia consists of positive, passionate people who are committed to creating a truly exceptional and unique experience for our clients that is unlike any personal financial and lifestyle services product. In this line of work, so many companies purport to be service- and client-oriented and talk about what they can do but few actually fulfil that. We do. Each client is given a dedicated Personal Assistant, who is available 24/7 365 days of the year. Regardless of the time or day of the week, the client will never be forwarded to a call center or delegated to an outside company. All of our services are seamless and intuitive. We also have a dedicated control department that not only goes above and beyond to complete any tasks, orders or requirements from the client, but once an order is fulfilled, the control center will follow up with the client to ensure every aspect of the order was perfectly executed.
How does Insignia make money?
We have a blended model where we generate income from financial products and lifestyle management. Insignia has built partnerships across the leisure industry to ensure the best possible service for business and to provide clients with the best market rates.
How does one join?
Membership is strictly by invitation only, available to ultra-high and high-net-worth individuals who represent extraordinary spending power. We consciously cap membership in order to maintain exclusivity, allowing us to fulfil our commitment of delivering complete personal attention to each member.
Why are you just entering the US now?
The United States is home to the world’s largest population of U/HNW individuals and establishing a base in the United States was always part of the larger strategic plan. Entering any new market is something we approach with consideration and backed by extensive research. It was essential that we launch with a strong local partner and teaming up with Certares was the right strategic decision. Equally, it benefits Certares to partner with Insignia, a company with a strong-hold in the leisure sector, and we brought our vast knowledge of the UHNW market. Certares has a wide-reaching network and strength in the US market has proven them as the right partner for our mutual success.
You are now in US and Europe but the biggest sector for ultra-high net worth is Asia, I believe. Why have you not gotten into those markets yet?
We will be looking to set up in these regions. We do not ever expand without a strong local partner. However, until such time as we feel we have secured such a collaborator, we will work with this market from our multiple other well-established offices. Our existing client base is global, and our Asian network is growing despite our lack of a brick-and-mortar presence. Our Asian base has doubled as a result of our partnerships with a host of European private banks. In terms of service and opportunity, there is a huge and growing desire for both luxury and lifestyle services. These clients tend to spend in both Euros and US dollars and of course, today, most UHNW individuals are global citizens.
So, it’s hard to avoid politics in this sector, recently Leon Cooperman broke down in tears on CNBC while discussing wealth tax proposals from Elizabeth Warren - what are your clients saying about the changed environment in the US?
Our clients and partners are global players and entrepreneurs. Our network is made up of groups and individuals who are obsessively focused on their businesses. This attention to detail allows them to see opportunities others have missed and to think in long-term measures. We similarly mirror this outlook in our practices at Insignia.
Would proposals like the one from Warren hurt your company?
As it stands, the luxury market has bounced back from economic uncertainty and geopolitical crises, edging closer to annual sales of $1 trillion at the end of 2017. And for us at Insignia, our focus is on providing our global network of clients and partners an unparalleled service and experience. We offer access to the world’s most exclusive venues, creating authentic experiences from the ground up, helping our members to form lasting and meaningful business relationships and partnerships.
Is there correlation between your business activity and such gauges like the S&P 500?
Like any business, we of course monitor and value such gauges as the S&P 500. And as a large-scale, dynamic and global business, we look to a range of metrics, bodies and indicators when assessing any business deal or decision.
Related to the above, what are some of the surprising trends we are seeing in the ultra-high net worth world?
Many of our clients are dedicating their time and resources to the quest for ‘experiential luxury’. Our team of highly trained experience specialists work effortlessly to plan and execute the most unique and desirable experiences, which are not otherwise accessible.
We recently put together a private trip for one of our clients to the coast of Newfoundland, Canada to visit the RMS Titanic. Led by world experts, our client and his guests joined a team of researchers and scientists and became part of an exclusive group to see this iconic vessel before she was fully consumed by the sea. More people have visited the moon than the Titanic, making this a unique and phenomenally exclusive experience.
Similarly, a client and their family were travelling in Thailand during peak season and expressed an interest in dining at Gaggan, named Asia’s best restaurant and 7th best in the world at the time. Due to its popularity, Gaggan had recently appointed a four-person team to manage the approximate 500 booking requests that they receive each day. Insignia managed to secure a short-notice reservation for all four guests.
We created Insignia to simplify the complexities of modern life. Our unique suite of services offers our valued clients a new level of financial freedom and effortless living — whether that’s supplying seamless business travel itineraries, unforgettable experiences, waiting-list-only items or impossible-to-buy tickets. Offering unrivaled levels of service, benefits, and privileges, we manage the details so our clients can enjoy the experience.