Karen Hale

Tuesday, 23 November 2004 08:55

Above and beyond

When it comes to maintaining their personal financial health, most well-to-do customers appreciate a little extra attention from their financial institutions. Just as they value concierge-level service from hotels, so do they welcome private client services from their banks.

Private client services, also known as private or custom banking services, are characterized by their one-on-one, personal attention to customers. Private bankers are the single point of contact for high-net-worth customers.

While traditional retail banking customers may, over time, establish fairly close working relationships with personal bankers, their interaction is largely transactional. By contrast, private bankers have ongoing personal relationships with their customers. The banker is likely to know clients' families, as well as their likes and dislikes and, most important, be intimately and intimately acquainted with the state of their financial health.

Looking at the whole financial picture, private bankers function almost as consultants who can make suggestions from a broader perspective than that of loan officers or other financial specialists. They may be able to propose a customized loan structure to meet an individual's needs, for example, or speed turnaround times on bridge or construction loans that involve pressing deadlines.

Equally valuable in these days of heightened security concerns and ongoing exhortations to know your customer, private bankers can eliminate a great deal of the red tape that surrounds modern financial transactions. In most cases, private client customers can simply call their banker to arrange wire transfers, move money among accounts or arrange a line of credit for a personal investment.

At the same time, private bankers function as financial quarterbacks, working with specialists to complete and enhance each customer's entire financial package. Because private bankers often have extensive experience in financial services, they know how and when to assemble teams of experts.

Whether they call on internal portfolio managers and financial planners or work directly with customers' own attorneys and CPAs, private bankers are the guiding force behind a team dedicated to devising and providing the best possible financial management for each customer's situation.

With this level of service, it's not unusual for private clients to become accustomed to viewing their private bankers as the answer to all their financial concerns. Private bankers have been known to get money converted to a foreign currency and deliver it to their customers, for instance.

And when a private client services customer wants to cash a check in a particular currency or for a certain amount at his or her own branch location, the private banker can arrange the transaction before the customer arrives. In some cases, private bankers have even taken cashier's checks to city or state offices to be sure procrastinating clients pay their taxes on time.

Not surprisingly, not every bank customer will merit this degree of attention. In most cases, customers must qualify for private client services. Typically, that means having an income of at least $250,000, investable assets of $500,000 or more and total loan relationships of $1 million or more.

Because those guidelines encompass relatively few higher-echelon customers, most banks do not have private bankers at every location. They are most often at the branches that upper-level customers are most likely to patronize. If they aren't conveniently located, however, it really doesn't matter.

Private bankers will most likely make house calls.

Karen Hale is vice president of private client services at MB Financial Bank. Reach her at (312) 456-8516 or www.mbfinancial.com.