Private banking is a much more personalized banking service given to individuals who invest substantial sums, typically over U$S1M. The most noticeable difference between retail and private banking services are that private clients receive customer service on a 1-1 basis via a relationship manager or a private banker. Wealthy individuals with private accounts can expect to meet their bank contact in person, and have direct phone access to a relationship manager. Usually the private banking arm of a bank is separate from the retail banking arm and the service is completely distinct.
A private bank is one that is not incorporated. Private banks are favoured by conservative investors because the directors are personally liable, and more likely to be cautious in managing client funds. Financial institutions like these are sometimes family owned and only cater to the very rich. One of the reasons why wealthy people choose them is their confidentiality – a pledge to maintain client records secret. For some it is a case of not wanting to be targeted by criminals, lawsuits or corrupt governments. Others use this secrecy to shield income from authorities like the IRS and evade tax.
Many of the world’s private banks are found in Switzerland because of the strict bank secrecy laws and sophistication of Swiss financial services. Small banks in countries like Switzerland are also more likely to keep their client records secret because they limit their operations to within the country’s bank secrecy laws.
Not only private banks offer private banking services – in fact some of the biggest providers of private banking and wealth management services like UBS, Credit Suisse and the Barclays are not privately owned. Private clients of these huge banks can take advantage of their in-house trading and research departments, and sometimes choose to have almost all their assets managed by the bank. This way they expect much higher returns than those given by a simple savings account or certificate of deposit.
Types of Private Banking Services
Usually only very affluent clients demand wealth management – where private bankers manage an investment portfolio for a family or an individual. The fee for this service varies from bank to bank and is charged yearly as a percentage of the total amount invested. The return of a portfolio will also depend on the standard of the private banking service. While some will provide excellent returns, others will continue to charge high fees while investing client funds in the bank’s own investment funds, regardless of whether or not this is beneficial to the client.
A popular alternative to wealth management is Self-Directed private banking, where the client manages his own portfolio, at times calling on advice from the bank. The advantages of this type of account are lower fees and greater personal control.