Banking for the super rich: Cool, crazy and confidential

The supplications of banks on behalf of their rich clients are endless and often bordering varied oddities.

By Shailesh Menon, ET Bureau |Updated: December 21, 2019, 07.12PM IST

 

Just the other day, a private bank approached Nisha Lall's team at Club Concierge with a peculiar request. The bank wanted the Club to arrange a month-long honeymoon – covering all continents - for a high-value account-holder.

"It was funny because we had to pack and despatch different sets of clothes – cool cottons, thick woollens, light woollens – depending on the weather in countries they were travelling," recalls Lall, a director at Club Concierge.

An entreaty such as this, and coming from a reputable bank, may have taken many by surprise, but for Lall it was nothing more than a rich man's quirk. Club Concierge has been getting such mandates from leading banks and card issuers (Visa, Mastercard) for over an year now. This is more so, after Indian banks such as Axis, Kotak Mahindra and HDFC Bank started "deeper engagement" with ultra-rich individuals – the top-500 richest Indians.

"The affluent business segment is a rapidly growing one," says Pralay Mondal, executive director at Axis Bank, which recently launched 'Burgundy Private' for their very affluent account holders.

"Serving the 'very-rich' segment is not same as normal banking. You don't sell products to these customers; you offer them solutions. And here you cannot make mistakes," says Mondal.

BANKING AND BEYOND


The bankers' way of dealing with UHNIs (ultra-high networth individuals) is relatively simple. They just divide the segment to "banking services" and "beyond-banking." While banks take up banking services, they leave 'beyond-banking' to third-party service providers and 'concierges.'

So, from arranging "a romantic spot" on the Great Wall of China for a besotted entrepreneur to procuring a limited edition Louis Vuitton clutch for a South Mumbai socialite, placing a huge "will you marry me" billboard on behalf of a smitten heir to arranging life-sized 'statuette' wedding cakes – the supplications of banks on behalf of their rich clients are endless and often bordering varied oddities.

"High-value account-holders and premium card-holders are offered top-end concierge services these days. Banks approach us for very personalised services," says Lall.

Mishti Bose, CEO of Quintessentially Lifestyle, claims to have several clients who have approached them via the banking channels. They are never short of mandates that involve arranging passes for concerts, marquee sporting events, the Grammys and the Oscars, Victoria's Secret fashion shows, procuring rare wines and pricey artworks.

"Any financial offering targeted at top-end customers has a lifestyle element to it," says Bose.

"Banks / card-issuers take our memberships (priced at Rs 3 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 25 lakh per annum) and gift them to their high-value clients. These clients, on their part, expect high-end curated services from us," says Bose.

According to bankers, clients also demand exclusive lounge services, cash movement options and storage facilities for their collectibles such as rare wines, art and family heirloom. Some of these requests may fall outside the bank's operational guidelines, as prescribed by RBI.

"We'll do everything that can be done within the regulatory framework of Indian banking," says Axis' Mondal.

Take the case of Kotak Mahindra Bank, which uses its wealth management team to serve affluent bank customers: the bank passes over mandates such as setting up of trusts, estate planning, family office services and philanthropy to the bank's other business verticals or third party service providers.

"The idea is to create experiences for these clients," says Srikanth Subramanian, senior executive director, Kotak Wealth Management.

The bank’s premium wealth management vertical caters to clients with an AUM (asset under management) of Rs 100 crore - internally classified as UHNIs. The bank services over 200 UHNI families.

"Ultra HNIs require a full spectrum of services – both on the investment and banking side. There's immense business potential in this segment," he adds.

BANKING THE RICH


"Limitless" credit cards, promoter loans (running into hundreds of crores), travellers' cards, easy forex clearances, exotic investment opportunities, channels to make overseas payments et al are some of the banking services that are offered to affluent bank account-holders.

"Products and services have to be differentiated for this segment. These have to be very customised as per the client's need," says Priyashis Das, head of branch banking & wealth management – consumer banking, DBS Bank.

"The 'emerging affluent segment' is also growing at a rapid pace. We have a big focus on this segment too," says Das.

Card-issuers like Visa give super-premium cards ('Visa Infinite') to affluent bank clients. 'Infinite' is tailor-made to meet the preferences of customers, which according to Visa, is increasingly becoming diverse.

"We have designed our services to cater to their needs by providing exclusive privileges across categories such as dining, shopping, stay and travel along with curating experiences that money can't buy," says Arvind Ronta, head of products at Visa (India & South Asia).

 


American Express issues 'centurion cards' that are practically without any limits. You can buy a jet or yacht if you want with it. But Centurion Cards are given selectively – mostly to some of the richest industrialists in the country.

Credit Suisse positions itself as the "bank for entrepreneurs" in Asia Pacific. The bank offers business banking solutions to their rich clients – from traditional portfolio management to creating liquidity, monetising their assets, fund their expansion plans and also explore global M&A opportunities.

"The advantage for us in India is our global expertise, seamless onshore-offshore collaboration and a deep heritage of understanding HNI clients across generations," says Balakrishnan Kunnambath, market group head for NRIs, Credit Suisse Private Banking.

As per Karvy Private Wealth, individual wealth in India grew by 9.62% to reach Rs 430 lakh crore last fiscal. Close to Rs 94 lakh crore of HNI wealth is managed by banks (via bonds, FD, current deposits and savings bank deposits). Any ambitious banker would want to get more of the larger pie – even if it meant being 'Reginald Jeeves' to the rich.

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