September 17, 2012 / 2:17 PM / 6 years ago

Private banks work wonders to lure the super-rich

LONDON (Reuters) - What do you get the client who has everything? An evening at a sleep school to get tips on how to beat insomnia? A chance to play cricket with former England star Andrew Flintoff? Advice on finding the right school?

Barclays bank headquarters in Canary Wharf, east London August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

These are just some of the services offered by Barclays in its “Little Book of Wonders,” underscoring the lengths to which the bank is prepared to go to win the custom of the super-wealthy at a time when its traditional businesses are struggling with weak economies and tougher regulators.

“There is more to wealth than managing one’s assets,” said David Hughes, Head of Affinity Partnerships at Barclays, which oversees the Little Book of Wonders. “This is a complement to the financial advice we give clients and a recognition of the world in which our clients exist.”

Attracting the business of wealthy clients, worth an estimated $42 trillion globally, is critical for banks seeking not only to maintain their profitability, but also to diversify their sources of funding and reduce their reliance on capital markets.

“Private banking, given the relatively lower capital requirements and the fee based nature of revenue is an area of growth and competition which is expected to increase,” Jill Zucker, a partner at McKinsey’s, told Reuters.

Private clients pay on average 1 percent of assets under management in fees to their wealth managers each year, estimates specialist wealth management consultant Scorpio Partnership.

Banks are keen to attract such fees as profits remain squeezed in other parts of their business, from high street lending to commercial and investment banking.

For example, Barclays reported a 38 percent rise in adjusted pre-tax profit in its wealth and investment management division in the first 6 months of the year compared with a 15 percent rise in its retail and business banking and 11 percent rise in corporate and investment banking.

Coutts, the 300-year old British bank which counts Britain’s Queen Elizabeth among its clientele, is beefing up its non-financial services to hold onto elite customers.

Ian Ewart, head of product, services & marketing, said the bank still loved to whisk away clients on horseracing jaunts and to a welter of events hosted in the social calendar of the glitterati - including the Cowes Quarter Ton sailing regatta and annual British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards bash.

But as entrepreneur clients start to outnumber heirs and heiresses, who tend to have a different outlook, Coutts is spending more time, effort and money satisfying a thirst for intellectual “entertainment” and high-level networking in a business world where success increasingly depends as much on ‘who you know’ as ‘what you know’.

A new thought leadership series called Futurescope has been designed to help the bank’s entrepreneurial customers analyze future macroeconomic issues and identify moneymaking opportunities in this decade and the next.

“Our clients can buy whatever they want for the most part. What they cannot buy - which is also what they really need - is to connect with people like them, to hear new ideas. The experience is far (more) important than a luxury freebie,” he said.


But in expanding the breadth and depth of services offered, private banks will have to make sure the extra cost is worth their while as profit margins in wealth management buckle under the increasing cost of regulation, compliance and technology.

The global wealth management industry is now paying $8 to generate every $10 of income, Scorpio Partnership calculated in its closely watched annual health check of the global private banking sector in July. That compared to ratios of less than 70 percent before the financial crisis hit in 2008.

“The question of how you can continue to cater for clients that might be less profitable for you in the future is a difficult one,” Coutts’ Ewart said.

In the case of its Little Book of Wonders, Barclays declined to disclose the cost of building and maintaining the online portal, saying it was part of its overall investment in its wealth management platform.

In an attempt to offset the costs of providing the service, the bank has offered the luxury brands the opportunity to advertise, for a fee, on its Little Book of Wonders portal.

Banks will pitch services such as Futurescope or the Little Book of Wonders to a select set of clients depending on their wealth and how they’ve made their money rather than offering blanket invites, to preserve the exclusivity of the offers.

But as clients question the fees they pay, especially in an environment where investment assets are delivering lackluster returns due to ongoing economic uncertainty, additional services not seen as essential to business needs might raise eyebrows.

“If there are fancy chandeliers and teacups, some clients might assume they are paying too much in fees,” said Zucker.

Such services are often tailored to the ultra high net worth individuals, with assets greater than $25 million, who are not only costing the banks more but are also not necessarily the most profitable.

So-called ‘Core Millionaires’, with assets of between $1 million and $10 million, generate investment revenue margins on average two to three times higher than their wealthier counterparts, making greater use of more profitable banking and lending products, a survey by McKinsey estimates.

These Core Millionaires are also projected to generate 60 percent of asset growth amongst all households with more than $1 million in assets by 2015.

“They’re a bit of a lost set of clients,” said Zucker. “Banks need to tailor their offering so there is growth in different market segments.”

So, where does this leave the Little Book of Wonders?

A junior member of one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurial families, whose mother recently switched private banking allegiance, was skeptical that affluent individuals would be tempted to change banks based on free offers.

“Would clients be impressed by that? No way,” said the family member, who declined to be named. “They just want to make sure that their banking is done, that their transfers happen, that they can speak to someone when they need to,” he said.

Reporting By Anjuli Davies and Sinead Cruise; Editing by Louise Heavens and Matthew Tostevin

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