Not all banks are open to the public. Behind the front doors of the nation’s biggest banks are little-known private banks that are only available to high net worth individuals (HNW).

If you want to talk to these banks, you’ll need assets of $3 million or more. If that’s not a problem, keep reading for the lowdown on these banks. If that’s not you, take a look anyway. When you make your first $3 million, you’ll know where to go.

Why Use a Private Bank?

As your net worth rises, your financial picture becomes more complex. High net worth individuals aren’t keeping their fortune in a single bank account. It’s in the form of investments, relatively illiquid assets such as a business or real property, a trust or other form of inheritance and, of course, cash.

A private bank is set up to address the wide range of services someone with a high net worth needs in order to manage larger amounts of money. For example, U.S. Trust – the private banking arm of Bank of America – provides a team of professionals among a small group of high net worth clients in their area, according to Doug DiVirgilio, division executive at the bank.

Often, a HNW individual will have a single account manager, who oversees a team of professionals based on the client’s needs. These professionals could include an investment adviser, a portfolio manager, an estate planner, a trust officer, an insurance specialist and a tax adviser, as well as a private banker who manages the client’s cash accounts and any other banking services that may be needed. (See Biggest Tax Issues Facing High-Net-Worth Individuals for insights into these special tax burdens.)

Private banks will work with a client’s outside financial advisers to create a financial plan that not only maximizes the earning power of their money now, but also after they pass away.

The Frills

The more money you have, the plusher the red carpet these banks will roll out for you. Although assets under management for the private banking industry moved up an average of 3.4% in 2014, the industry is under pressure to produce “sustained high margin results,” according to the Global Private Banking Benchmark 2015 released by Scorpio Partnership. 

Because of this, private banks will battle for your millions. Barclays, for instance, offers a service it calls Little Book of Wonders. The bank partners with luxury brands giving clients up to five complimentary experiences per year in certain lifestyle areas. Kids might experience being a zoo keeper for a day and adults could get a private tour of the Crown Jewels or the Churchill War room, for example.

HSBC Private Bank touts its high profile sports sponsorships as part of its perks. Wimbledon and big-name golf tournaments are just a few of the tickets you’re likely to get by banking there.

But HNW clients are looking for more than sports tickets and exclusive trips. According to DiVirgilio, clients are highly concerned with the level of financial literacy of their offspring. When it comes time to pass large amounts of money to their children, clients want to set them up for success. That’s why U.S. Trust created the Financial Empowerment program, which educates the next generation on important topics like buying a home, starting a business and making charitable contributions. Other private banks have financial education tools as well.

Younger HNW clients are also concerned about socially responsible investments, DiVirgilio asserts. U.S. Trust provides its HNW clients with access to its S2I strategies – a suite of socially responsible investment options. Companies are rated on about 400 criteria for inclusion in these strategies. One example is the Women and Girls Equality Strategy, which reviews companies on their equality, social justice, anti-discrimination and global labor practices, and takes into consideration negative media portrayals of women and girls. Others include Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship, the Religious Voice and Values Strategy, and Human Rights and Recognition, which focuses on favorable treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Having a personal banker isn’t such a bad perk either, since everything from depositing a check to getting a loan is handled for you. Chase Private Client, the private banking arm of Chase Bank, offers a list of perks including no service charges or fees on pretty much anything, no foreign exchange fees, a dedicated mortgage lender and a business banker if you need one. All perks are extended to family members when they are joint owners on the account. This is true of other private banks that have a bank holding arm.

And although the days of hiding your money in a Swiss bank account aren’t what they once were, expect some innovative strategies that the retail customer probably won’t know about. 

How Much Do I Need?

Some banks offer “private” services with investable assets as low as $50,000 but to get the true private banking experience, you’ll need at least a couple of million dollars. Some banks will work with as little as $1 million, but in the case of U.S. Trust, you’ll need at least $3 million. Investable assets include cash, investments including brokerage and retirement accounts, and some other assets. The value of your home doesn’t count.

The more you have, the more private and exclusive the services. At U.S. Trust, if you have more than $25 million, putting you around the ultra high net worth range, you gain access to the bank’s specialty asset management service. If you want to own timber, real estate, oil and gas interests or farm and ranch land, you can. U.S. Trust has managers who specialize in complete turnkey services. You don’t have to know how to harvest wheat to own farmland. It goes without saying that this is true at other private banks, too.

Size Matters

In the early days of private banks, these banks were independent entities often shrouded in secret. With the tumultuous recent history of the banking industry, private banks still maintain their exclusivity but align themselves more closely with their parent brand. Clients find comfort in larger banks with massive amounts of assets under management. The top private bank in the world is UBS; Morgan Stanley is a close second. The third largest is Bank of America/U.S. Trust. Other U.S. banks include Citibank (number six) and J.P. Morgan (number seven); Goldman Sachs closes out the top 10. 

If you prefer to bank more locally, many regional banks have private arms.

The Bottom Line

Private banks often cater to generations of family members. They pride themselves on retaining the best talent because they know that their clients prefer to deal with the same people for as long as possible. HNW individuals don’t like change when it comes to their money.

If you’re shopping for a private bank, start with your current bank but call the private arms of a few others, too, to find out how they’ll roll out the red carpet for you. If you’re working with a financial advisor, ask for his or her recommendations. Financial advisors often have the inside scoop on the best private banks in the area.

See Asset Protection for High Net Worth Individuals for more on how to keep your assets safe.

 

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