Wealth

Safe Money — Private bankers go beyond the usual call of duty to serve their clients.



Expect no traditional teller lines at Northern Trust Bank in Rancho Mirage, which epitomizes the lofty image of private banking. Walk through the front door and you’d swear you were in the elegant living room of a New England home. It has a fireplace, authentic antiques, and comfortable accommodations.

Here clients quietly confer with private bankers on everything from banking and borrowing to reviewing portfolio and investment management strategies.

“How we deliver sophisticated services to our clients is what Northern Trust has focused on during its 116-year history,” says Doug Allensworth, Northern Trust’s managing director in Rancho Mirage. Bob Pond, local philanthropist and founder of the Palm Springs Air Museum, has even appeared in ads in The Wall Street Journal touting the privileges of private banking at Northern Trust. “We want people to feel as much at home in our offices as possible,” says Michael Smith, regional president.

The good news is that private banking is no longer reserved exclusively for members of the Forbes 400. As banks look to expand their services with additional profit opportunities, private banking has almost gone mainstream. Even if you have just $1 million in liquid assets, there may be a private banker in your future.

Perhaps you’ve spent years focusing on making money and now realize it’s time to pay attention to truly managing the wealth you’ve created for yourself, your children, and grandchildren.

Simply put, private bankers basically do it all — including personalized banking, investment management, retirement services, custom credit, private mortgage banking, and charitable investing. Most private bankers use a team of experts — internal and external — for the daily management of assets and for long- and short-term investing.

Think of the private banker as the quarterback of your financial game plan. That’s what one retired business owner who uses Wells Fargo’s Palm Desert Private Client Services Office does. “I’ve found that using a private banker keeps you a step ahead,” he says. “Your private banker cuts through the first layer of paperwork if you’re arranging a loan, for example.” He was very pleased when his private banker recently expedited a loan for his son. “The real difference is a private banker understands your needs completely,” he adds.

Private bankers are noted for going the extra mile for their clients. In addition to advising them on their total financial picture, private bankers perform a laundry list of tasks. As Haddon Libby, former senior vice president of Bank of America’s Private Bank, said before leaving his post, the private bank is “the family office. ... The bank will pay a client’s bills if they’re traveling around the world. It will mange their trusts and deal with unhappy family members. It has even helped elderly and disabled clients find competent caregivers and then monitored them to make sure they weren’t stealing from our clients or taking advantage of them. We really will do almost anything to make our clients’ lives less complex.”

Bank of America accepts private banking clients with a $5 million net worth or $1 million in assets under management.

Bob Hoffman, Wells Fargo’s regional manager and vice president of private client services, remembers two cases in which his team pushed the envelope. “We had a client in Denver who was leaving the country, and he needed cash. I told him to have someone drive by our office and I would go outside and deliver the money.”

Another client bought a $500,000 Porsche at auction. The client was away and wanted the car ready for him when he returned to the desert. Hoffman’s people took the paperwork to the DMV, and the car was ready when his client arrived. “Whenever possible, part of what we do is facilitate all types of transactions,” Hoffman explains.

Of course, private banking has its price. Fees are often based on a percentage of assets under management.

One retired CFO who spent years in the banking business and could manage his own money wouldn’t be without his private banker. “I enjoy the convenience I receive when they do things they would not do if I wasn’t a private banking client,” he says. “They will simply put a lot of resources in play to make things happen.”

Palm Springs Life

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