Private banks work wonders to lure the super-rich
London, September 18, 2012
By Anjuli Davies and Sinead Cruise
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?
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 ...this is a complement to the financial advice we give clients and a recognition of the world in which our clients exist," David Hughes, Head of Affinity Partnerships at Barclays, which oversees the Little Book of Wonders.
Attracting the business of wealthy clients, worth an estimated $42 trillion globally, is critical for banks not only seeking to maintain their margins, but also diversify their funding base 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, estimates specialist wealth management consultant Scorpio Partnership.
Banks are keen to attract their fees as profits remain squeezed in other parts of the 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 banking business and 11 percent rise in corporate and investment banking.
Coutts, the 300-year old British bank which counts the Queen 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 host a welter of key events 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, 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 'who you know' as well as 'what you know'.
A new thought leadership series called Futurescope has been designed to help the bank's entrepreneurial customers analyse 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 important than a luxury freebie," he said.
But in innovating the breadth and depth of services offered, private banks will have to make sure the extra spend 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, calculates Scorpio Partnership in its closely watched annual health check of the global private banking sector in July.
"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 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 mitigate the costs of 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 also pitch services such as Futurescope or Little Book of Wonders to a select set of clients depending on their wealth and how they've made their money rather than blanket invites, to preserve the exclusivity of the offers.
But as clients question the fees they pay, especially in an environment where investments assets are delivering lacklustre 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 sceptical that affluent individuals would be tempted to change banks based on free offers.
"Would clients be impressed by that? No way," the source said. "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. - Reuters