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Going After the Rich

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Jerry Weiner, Robert Gunter and Nat Gorham live in different states, have had diverse occupations and have never met. But, they have much in common. They are all married, retired men with affable personalities and considerable fortunes to their credit. Each has a net worth of between $5 million and $30 million, none of which they keep under their mattresses.

Presumably, their accounts would be coveted by any bank, and thus their technical needs would be accommodated. In this decidedly unscientific survey, however, the results show that this may not always be the case.

Weiner

Atlanta resident Jerry Weiner, 50, is the recently retired chief executive officer of IPS-Sendero, a unit of Milwaukee-based Fiserv Inc. that provides technology and consulting services. Weiner maintains personal accounts at Charlotte, NC-based Bank of America, keeping minimal assets with the bank. The bulk of his wealth is invested through brokerage firm Morgan Stanley.

Weiner has a broker and investment adviser. He doesn't trade online or use Internet banking, other than to review a transaction occasionally. While he manages investment accounts, his wife handles the payment of household bills, printing checks through Quicken financial software.

Weiner says electronic bill payment has not been presented to them in a way that alleviates concerns about security and trust. He suspects, however, that they will pay bills online in the future.

What puzzles Weiner is bank's apparent lack of money lust. "The issue is, why don't people like me keep more of their assets at the bank?" he says. "They get more of my assets by demonstrating to me that they can give me the same level of service that my brokerage does."

Weiner says he spoke with a bank executive at his BofA branch about financial services and she handed him a business card, asking that he call her. He believes such action epitomizes banks' lackadaisical attitude toward client service.

"They ought to be giving me asset-allocation recommendations like my broker does," he says. "They don't even know who I am. In fact, they do things that are just downright stupid."

Ed Bambauer, regional managing partner for financial services at the Boston office of Andersen Consulting, says the firm recently conducted research on people with "investable" assets of $1 million or more.

"There's a big disconnect between the high-net-worth group and the branch people," Bambauer says. "They literally have difficulty translating the high-net-worth relationship with the transactional side."

Bambauer says that in addition to better customer relationship management, or CRM, capabilities, banks need two types of relationship managers for the wealthy: the hunters, who attract the clients, as well as a group of managers who meticulously cultivate the relationships.

Along with conventional functions, the cultivators teach clients about technology-based financial tools and how to use them in conjunction with professional advice on issues such as family wealth planning, charitable giving and tax law.

Matt Schott, senior analyst at Needham, MA-based TowerGroup, says his firm's research shows that when asked to identify their primary financial services institution, the majority of people in all asset sizes name their banks. But, when asked where they keep the majority of their assets, the answer is more likely to be an investment firm.

Weiner notes that he earned his living consulting and working with bankers. He has long advocated improved CRM in banking, but he's doubtful that significant improvements will be achieved anytime soon. "Banks are set up to deal with a mass of people," he says. "Unfortunately, they don't change the rules to deal with the (individual) customer. I'm not optimistic that they're ever going to."

Gunter

Robert Gunter, 70, and his wife divide their time between homes in Kennebunk, ME, and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The latter location is headquarters for his family business, Sunny Caribbee Spice Co., from which he retired as president.

For his personal finances, Gunter keeps small, transactional accounts with $395 million-asset Kennebunk Savings Bank and Fidelity Bank and international accounts with U.K.-based Barclays. The bulk of his assets are handled by an asset manager with a brokerage firm.

Gunter uses an Apple iMac computer and finds e-mail an invaluable benefit of Internet technology. He is evaluating Palm devices for wireless e-mail and, in general, is receptive to technology. Nonetheless, despite his openness to new systems and his extensive travel, he pays virtually all of his personal bills by check. And with the exception of insurance bills, which he does pay electronically, Gunter expresses little interest in Internet banking, Web-based account aggregation, wireless transfers or other banking wizardry.

TowerGroup's Schott says Gunter is not alone in his relative apathy toward personal finance technology, although the consultant believes consumer adoption of such offerings will increase as collaborative tools develop that the rich will find too useful to ignore.

Examples include portfolio optimization and stock-option analysis tools that bankers can use interactively with clients. A relationship manager and bank client can discuss complicated financial scenarios via telephone while both parties view and manipulate information online-for instance, mapping out sophisticated "What if" situations.

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