Interview with an Art Banker, Thomas González – $133 Million in Loans | Part 2

Thomas González

Thomas González is sharing his passion for art with us again in this two-part interview series. Today, we reveal the differences between the art and financial world, how banking and art change lives, and how to get started as an investor in the art world.

We at World Art News are proud to present what it takes to become a long-term success in the art loans business.

Continue reading to learn the pleasures and pains of being an art banker. If you missed Part 1 of this interview, Click Here to read it first.

Can you elaborate a little more on the difference between the art and the financial world and how you were able to bridge that gap?

Bankers believe in numbers and market figures. Risk in banking is a statistical calculation. Art people focus on the quality of an artwork, its visual power, and its history. Both are right.

How do you convince a banker to lend money against art and why don’t more banks offer such a service?

The toughest part of my career was to build that confidence step by step and on both sides: funding partners and art clients. It was like a wall of bricks. Brick by brick, loan by loan, I got better. Not like in the tech world where a company grows 20 times overnight.

I think there is a massive market for art loans. But the barrier to entry is high for banks because it’s like sweet-water and salt-water. Few fish can swim in both glasses of water.

What sacrifices do you have to make to become successful in this business?

As a person who loves and lives art, it is a challenge to devote your time to issues outside of the art world. As an art dealer, I spend much more time with art in libraries and museums.

Do you work with just art (paintings) or antiques and collectibles as well, like furniture, pottery, bladed weapons, automobiles or sports cards?

We focus on fine art (paintings, drawings, sculpture) of the 20th century. As one of the few lenders, we also work with Old Masters. But we are open to considering any other collection field as long as there is a strong and stable auction market.

What are the most exotic or unique pieces that you had to work with?

One day, somebody rang at my door (cold call) and asked if I would lend against his PlayStation. He thought I was a general pawnbroker. Another day, somebody sent me images of a beautiful painting in an old frame. I did some research and made an offer. When we finally met, it turned out it was a poster glued on canvas. The client thought it was an original.

Are your clients all private entities or do you work with government institutions?

Often people ask me if I would prefer working with dealers or private collectors. I don’t see a difference between the two. Dealers always maintain a private collection, and private collectors buy and sell all the time.

Should an average person who inherited, discovered, or unknowingly purchased a very expensive artwork but who may not have the money to pay interest, contact you?

The motivation to take a loan is always to improve the situation of the client. Mainly to buy time to sell artwork at a decent price. The interest payment is not a problem, as you can use a part of the loan amount for the interest payments.

Do you or are you planning to lend money against NFTs and what is your opinion of this new art form?

I believe in NFTs for video art and photography. At the moment, I would not lend against NFTs.

What advice would you give to young art entrepreneurs or anyone that doesn’t have a lot of money, but wishes to get into the art business?

26 years ago, I started with no money, no knowledge, no contacts in a small town in Germany. The truth is you can achieve anything you want, but you need to put in a lot of hard work, possess enthusiasm, and master endurance. Most importantly, enthusiasm is what most people lose with time, even the very successful ones. Remember how enthusiasm opens a lot of doors, everything else you learn on the job.

What advice would you give to someone who has substantial wealth and wishes to partake the art business for the first time?

Like in real life, there is no dry run. Just dive in. Once you are financially engaged, you will research much deeper, look at different comparable pieces, auction results, museum shows, etc. Experience how art changes your life. Start with established artists if you can afford it.

Is it dangerous to be a high-end art banker and what is your opinion of the art world in general, is it a safe place to do business in the 21st century? And has it gotten less or more safe over your lifetime?

The art market has become much more transparent with the Internet and all the auction, gallery databases, and the artist’s foundations. Also, companies like such as help a lot. Up to the eighties, all of this information was for professionals and insiders. Up to the seventies, if you were a private collector, you wouldn’t even be part of a public auction. Christie’s and Sotheby’s catalogs weren’t online. They didn’t even have images. Back then, you asked a dealer to buy something for you. Today this is unimaginable!

Transparency is vital and gives much more security, especially for non-professionals.

Your art education helped you attain great success. Would you recommend others follow in your footsteps, or would a financial education be a better choice should someone wish to become an art banker like you?

Banking is living in measurable reality. In school, you feel comfortable with mathematics, physics, logic, etc. Arts like painting, music, dance, literature is living in a world, which is not measurable in numbers and does not have logical rules. You can only be good in what heaven gave you. 

Thank God I have great colleagues who manage the banking part! If you are on the art side, it is necessary to get involved in the art market. I know a lot of big galleries that look for staff. People who know how to run an art market business are candidates in high demand that these big galleries want to hire.

How can someone from humble beginnings enter the elite world of art that most people only see in James Bond films and do those films accurately portray what it’s really like?

Just apply for a job in a gallery, an auction house, or an art-related media company. Read everything you can about the art market, visit museums, fairs, and shows. Approach big players, dare to ask questions, show your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and motivation are what counts because you learn everything else on the job.

Is art banking an exclusive world? Do you have to actively look for clients or do they find you?

Finding good clients is always hard work. Otherwise, everybody would be in my business.

What skill set must you possess to be a good art banker? Foreign languages, knowledge of art and history, top notch math skills?

You need to know and understand at least the history of the art of the 20th century. The market and its players. 

Most people speak English, but you need to learn how different countries conduct business. A New York dealer usually is a cordial person and probably a little bit crazy. A London-based British dealer is very polite and elegant and says everything in between the lines.

In a negotiation, sometimes you don’t’ understand 100% what’s the matter. Italians are super charming and always take you out to great restaurants, but only 50% of what they say is reliable. But that’s also what makes this job so much fun.

You paid out over 111 million euros in art loans. With the ever-expanding art market, do you see a half a billion in your near future?

Only a tiny percentage of the blue-chip artworks people lend against, so this market will grow much bigger in the future.

Does this business require travel?

Yes, it does, and I love it. This is another difference in comparison to the finance world. In banking, people behave with an institutional disposition. In the art world, everything is very personal, clients often become friends.

How has COVID impacted your business, and what changes, if any, did you have to make?

The business also works online, but I miss traveling a lot, meeting people, and experiencing art in its original form.

What types of art do you prefer to lend money against the most?

We lend against everything with clear attribution and a strong market. Most of the artworks are blue-chip 20th century.

From your experience, what types of art will appreciate the most over the next decade, and what would you recommend art investors should invest in?

That’s hard to say. Antiques and Old Master painting decreased dramatically in value in the past ten years. I am sure these markets will come back. Most of these artworks survived for centuries.

Do you collect art, and if so, can you share anything about your most interesting pieces?

I collect early and antique art. I am writing this interview on my French 18th century secrétaire à abattant, which I love a lot.

What are your top three most favorite artworks and artists of all time and why?

There are many more than three artworks or artists. That’s the tragedy of life: we are able to realize that there are so many possibilities, so many great people, locations, artworks, but we have just one life!

What books about art, money or wealth preservation would you recommend to our readers?

There are a lot of books. I wrote two myself 21 years ago. I recommend choosing some excellent art dealers and asking them for advice if you are new to the market to grow your portfolio.

In Conclusion

Enthusiasm and motivation are the most vital characteristics to embody when getting started in the art business. Don’t be afraid to dive into the art world without a snorkel because Thomas wasn’t afraid to do it and ended up being a resounding success.

Do you want to work with Thomas? Or maybe you have more questions about art loans? Visit his website to learn more.

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