The trend toward managed health care has started to cut into doctors' income, whacking 4% off their average pretax earnings in 1994, according to the American Medical Association.
But that doesn't mean private bankers have given up on this market segment, long viewed as extremely lucrative.
To make up for the earnings falloff, doctors are increasingly looking for ways to boost their investment income. And private bankers see a big opportunity to help.
For instance, KeyCorp - which commands a 40% share of the medical- professional market in its hometown of Cleveland - has seen a big shift in the types of services demanded by its client doctors, who number in the thousands.
Ten years ago, most of them wanted financing to start up practices in their early years, and then tax shelters in their later years.
"They were much more confident in their lifestyle," said Keith J. Kormos, a vice president who runs a health care client group in KeyCorp's private banking and investment management division.
But now, many doctors have sold their practices to become employees of health maintenance organizations and other managed care facilities.
Increasingly, they are turning to their private bankers for sweep accounts and brokerage products, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
"We can bring in a broker to talk about mutual funds and a trust officer to talk about estate planning," Mr. Kormos said.
Like KeyCorp, Harris Bankcorp has a special private banking team dedicated to the personal and business needs of doctors. It's one of six professional groups that the Chicago banking company set up two years ago to give clients a single point of entry for services.
Previously customers might have had to call several different parts of the bank to round up the services they wanted.
"A lot of banks will say, 'We have an expert in that.' But our people take that a step further by structuring a group to meet those needs," said William E. Thonn, senior vice president of Harris.
Mr. Thonn said he thinks the segmented format is helping doctors focus on long-term investing.
"It's a real challenge to try to get doctors to see the light," he said.
Banks, of course, have plenty of competition for the doctor market.
The American Medical Association itself has a 20% stake in a money management company that targets doctors exclusively. The balance of the company, American Medical Association Investment Advisers, is owned by Oppenheimer Capital.
AMA Investment Advisers, as it is known, has $700 million under management for approximately 5,000 doctors, medical groups, and associations.
The Chicago-based organization is well positioned to respond to the evolving financial needs of doctors, said its president, P. Frank Castellon.
"Banks and others are beginning to realize those changes, but we live those changes with the physicians because of our affiliation with the AMA," Mr. Castellon said.