Private banking and wealth management — Are they the same?

Author: Charles Benoni Okine
Due to competition in the financial services sector, particularly the banks, fierce competition has taken banking service to the next level. All these are towards one focus, the customer on their minds. Customers of banking services have become so sophisticated; banks are forced to be careful when dealing with them. In this modern world, banks offer the variety of services to attract customers.
 
Some key services

Banks offer some very basic functions which are according to law and these include deposit taking, advancing loans, among others. According to iedunote, banks offer a wide variety of other services. These include foreign currency exchange, credit cards, ATMs services, debit cards, home banking, online banking and mobile banking.
 
Private banking vs wealth management

Investopedia believes that private banking and wealth management are terms that overlap. However, the financial services offered through private banking or through wealth management differ slightly.
 
Wealth management is a broader category that involves dealing with the optimisation of a client's portfolio, taking into account his aversion to, or comfort with, risk, and investing assets according to his plans and financial goals.
 
Private banking typically refers to an envelope solution for high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs) wherein a public or private financial institution employs staff members to offer high-net-worth clients personalised care and management of their finances.
 
The primary difference between private banking and wealth management is that private banking does not always deal with investing clients' assets. Private bank staff may offer clients guidance on certain investment options, but not all banks will be involved in the actual process of investing assets for their clients. Most clients utilising private banking services open deposit accounts of one kind or another. Wealth management employees, including financial advisors, provide advice to clients to help them improve their financial standing and assist clients in investing assets with the goal of generating high returns. In general, private banking can extend to encompass wealth management, but wealth management firms cannot provide clients with private banking facility services.
 
Private banking

In general terms, private banking involves financial institutions that provide financial management services to HNWIs. In some instances, an individual may be able to obtain these services with assets less than GH¢4.5 million, but most banks that provide private banking do not accept clients who have assets less than GH¢1.2 million. Private banking tends to be exclusive and is reserved for clients with substantial amounts of cash and other assets to be deposited into accounts and to be invested.
 
Private banking provides investment-related advice and aims to address the entire financial circumstances of each client. Private banking services typically aid clients in protecting and growing their assets. Employees designated to aid each client work to provide individualised financing solutions. These employees also help clients plan and save for their retirement and structure plans for passing accumulated wealth on to family members or other indicated beneficiaries.
 
There are consumer banks of every size with private banking divisions. These divisions offer considerable perks to HNWIs to obtain them as clients. Private banking clients with large accounts generally receive enviable rates and concierge-like service, guaranteeing them instant access to the employees working with their accounts. Private banking clients never have to wait in line or use a teller for services. Anything the client needs can be done with a phone call. A private banking client can contact the lead advisor working with his account and complete just about any transaction, from cashing a cheque or ordering more cheque to moving large sums of money from one account to another.
 
These perks are all part of the banking institution’s plan to benefit financially. Banks pursue wealthy clients because their business generates significant sums of money in profit for the bank, guarantees repeat business and brings in new business. Private banking clients, specifically the ultra-wealthy, discuss the specialised and elite treatment they receive with other wealthy individuals. These are new potential clients. Often, these new potential clients are mentioned to private banking divisions by current clients. The divisions then send out invitations to potential clients and often acquire their accounts through such invitations.
 
Private banking divisions also find new clients through the course of completing normal lending activities. The banks can access tax returns and additional personal documents and discover other potential clients through this information. Invitations are also extended to these individuals, and often private banking divisions acquire clientele by doing so.
 
Clients utilising private banking services pay for the specialised treatment they receive. The bank that wealthy clients use has a guarantee of a large pool of money, in the form of the clients' substantial checking account balances, to lend and utilise. The bank also makes money from the steeper interest charges on larger mortgage and business loans taken out by rich clients. The real money maker for these banks, though, is the percentage earned on assets under management (AUM), which is generally quite large with HNWIs. Charging even a very small percentage fee for services that involve huge sums of money generates substantial income for the bank.
 
Specialised treatment by private banking divisions can’t completely hide some of the drawbacks, however. The turnover rate at banks tends to be high. A client may have built a relationship with an employee managing his account, and then the next month that employee is gone and replaced by someone the client likely doesn't know. The client's experience with the new employee may or may not be what he is looking for, and many private banking divisions lose clients over this. This is typical in Ghana where the turnover rate in the banking sector is so high. Due to the competition, bankers tend to look for new opportunities from competitor banks and at the least opportunity, they slip away.
 
These divisions may offer many services, but they may not be a master of all of them. Banks are not experts at everything, so the level of expertise the client receives is likely to be lower than if he had used a specialist in a particular area. Finally, private bankers are paid by the bank, so their primary loyalty is to their employer and not to their clients.
 
Wealth management

Private wealth management generally involves advice and execution of investments on behalf of affluent clients. Firms that specialise in these practices are the primary sources for clients looking to invest in a variety of funds and stocks. Wealth management advisors also help with financial planning, manage client portfolios and perform a variety of other financial services in relation to a client’s private financing choices.
Private wealth management services are provided by larger corporations, such as Goldman Sachs, but they may also be provided by independent financial advisors or portfolio managers multi-licensed to offer multiple services and who focus on high-net-worth clients.
 
A wealth management advisor sits down one-on-one with each client and discusses goals, comfort levels with risk and any other stipulations or restrictions the client may have in regard to the investment of his assets. The wealth management advisor then composes an investment strategy that incorporates all information gained from the client to help the client achieve his goals. The advisor continues to manage the client’s money and utilises investment products that coincide with the client's stipulations.
 
Wealth management advisors cannot always offer clients the same specialised and concierge-like services that private banking offers. However, in most cases, these financial advisors spend a great deal of time with clients. These advisors also cannot open banking accounts for clients, but they can assist them in determining the right kind of accounts to open at the bank of the client's choosing.
 
Way forward

It is common to enter a banking hall and be accosted by a banker doing sales. She/he is bound to mention either private banking or wealth management but does not really understand what the real differences are.
 
So many banks have departments which they describe either as a private banking or wealth management, but the services provided are the opposite to each other. It is necessary, therefore, for this distinction to be made clear in order not to confuse the public anymore.