An old woman shuffles alone into your bank. She's barely five feet tall. It's the middle of summer, but she's wearing a cheap black winter coat and hat. In fact, by the looks of it she has worn the same hat and coat for years. She grips a worn folder filled with papers. Without smiling, she says her name is Ann Scheiber and asks to talk with a private banker.

How would your bank treat her?

She tells the first person she meets she has been investing since 1944, but needs help reducing the tax drain on her portfolio.

What kind of respect would she be shown?

Then Ms. Scheiber-she never married-meets you and says she invests primarily in stocks. She's had good success since her initial investment of $5,000. Her portfolio is now worth $10 million.

What kind of service would she receive? Would she ever get to meet a properly trained private banker?

Ann Scheiber received the kind of service from her broker that every bank would do well to match. For more than two decades, she worked with the same Merrill Lynch broker. That's even more impressive when you know more about Ms. Scheiber.

She worked for the IRS for 23 years, was given high marks, yet was never promoted. She did her own research, poring over the Wall Street Journal and analyst reports, and stuck with her own investment strategy. When she died, she had broken off all contact with her family.

She was self-sufficient, brilliant, demanding, and wary.

Yet she stayed with the same broker for more than 20 years because she was pleased with the service and attention he gave her. Could your bank live up to her high expectations and maintain the same lengthy relationship?

More than likely, your bank would fall short-and wouldn't be alone. Across the country, banks are seeing their share of the affluent market drop with startling speed.

The numbers speak for themselves.

Last year, the number of households with at least $1 million of investable assets grew 15% to 2.7 million, according to Payment Systems Inc., Tampa. The firm also found that households with annual incomes exceeding $100,000 and more than $500,000 of assets (excluding a home) grew 10%, to 11.2 million.

Yet since 1992, banks' share of this rapidly expanding market has decreased by 50%. An increasing number of nonbank firms are focusing on the affluent, creating an ultra-competitive environment. As a result, banks-the organizations that historically have been best equipped to serve the affluent market-are in danger of becoming irrelevant to that market.

In today's high-stakes battle for the patronage of the affluent, the fundamental differentiating factor between the winners and losers is the needs-focused skills of the professional client advisers. In a word, service.

Most banks fail where the competitors shine. Nonbank financial services providers are succeeding because they promote their products, focus on customer needs, and provide superior customer service.

The brokerage firms are no better equipped to serve the affluent, but they tell their stories over and over while banks don't. They also send in well-trained people. The result is an image problem for banks. Instead of selling the results, the goals, the end benefits, banks still sell processes, features, and facts.

Indeed, banks are well equipped to serve the affluent-perhaps better equipped than any other adviser. But to do so, banks must make fundamental changes. They must shift paradigms, both internally and externally. They must aggressively go after the affluent. And at the same time, the affluent would be well-advised to at least listen to banks. After all, no other organization can match the myriad services and security most banks offer. So no other organization can care for and build the wealth of the affluent better than banks.

To win in an ultracompetitive market, private bankers must transform their banks into sales-oriented, customer-first organizations. The 10 key success factors of sales productivity are:

An integrated targeted strategy. Successfully consolidating relationships with the affluent can add huge revenue for additional services from the bank.

Hiring to market potential. The upper-affluent market is growing at a rate of about 15% a year and most banks are hiring only handfuls of salespeople.

Training. Sales managers must know how to assist the calling officer in preparation for the calls.

Client acquisition, development, and retention processes. Most nonbanks devote 40% to 60% or more of their time to developing and gaining new business. That's three to four times more hours selling than bankers.

High-quality and demanding sales management. This means getting more support staff, better technology, better products, more products, more private bankers, and 101 other things.

Productivity-driven compensation for referrals and sales.

Key client analysis and programs. Review your list of customers, starting with your top accounts, adding up the revenues as you go, until you reach 80%. You have identified the people who are your bank's key customers.

Excellent products. Find out what products your customers want and create them.

Customized credit.

Technological support for client service and private banker efficiency.

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