A profitable partnership Featured

11:24am EDT July 31, 2002
Dr. Joan dreams of moving her medical practice into a spacious facility with large, comfortable examination rooms and a child-friendly waiting room. She's found a building that looks just right, tours the unoccupied facility and makes an offer on Monday, signs the building purchase agreement on Wednesday, and closes on the property that Friday.

How did she make this transaction happen in a matter of days? Dr. Joan is a client -- she has maintained all of her personal and medical practice business with the same bank and has had a relationship manager in its private banking department for three years. Because her banker has a personal relationship with her, has all of her financial information and has discussed her goal of purchasing a building, her loan request was approved Saturday over the telephone.

Establishing a solid working relationship with your banker is crucial to accumulating, growing and preserving wealth. Private banking was established by financial institutions to develop, maintain and grow strong relationships with clients, referred to as private client group, investment advisers or wealth management.

Whatever the name, private bankers focus on providing superior service and customized financial solutions and products to professionals and their families.

Here are several factors to consider when establishing a relationship with the private banking division of a financial institution.

* Quality of banker/adviser. Look for a true partner to help you attain personal financial goals. While education, licensing and certifications are important, the banker/adviser's experience, reputation and ability should be the overriding factors. The primary role should be to coordinate financial services and products for the client.

* Responsiveness and support. Establish expectations. Only when the client and banker/adviser share expectations will the relationship grow and flourish. The banker/adviser should provide the names of support staff and their capabilities in the event that he or she is unavailable.

* Service and product offerings. Unless a bank specializes in a market segment, it is essential it offers a full spectrum of products.

* Strength of institution. The financial services industry has undergone tremendous change in the past 20 years as institutions have been acquired or dissolved. Select one with a stellar reputation, strong operating performance and solid credit ratings, especially if your goal is to transfer wealth to your heirs.

* Local decision-making. The banker/adviser and the local bank should be empowered to make decisions and customize services and products. Money managed outside the local market cannot be personalized if the client cannot communicate with the money manager directly. Products and services should be flexible enough to be tailored to the client's unique needs. Be wary of any firm that pushes "one-size-fits-all" standardized products and services.

Developing a banking relationship is an important part of business. The banker/adviser can be a valuable information source and help you network and grow your business. Ask other owners for recommendations and start a relationship that will enable you to reap personalized benefits and services. How to reach: Tom Mitevski is senior vice president for the Private Client Group at Fifth Third Bank. Reach him at (614) 233-4593 or Tom.Mitevski@53.com.