No banker would intentionally besmirch his customers. But even unquestionably dedicated retail bankers might do well to listen closely to their brethren in trust and private banking departments. They sound a bit more, well, respectful of their customers.

We discovered during a survey - albeit unscientific and anecdotal - that retail bank executives refer to their customers as objects. In the upscale business groups, meanwhile, customers were spoken of more as people.

Consider the evidence: Rather than using "who" when referring to customers, many executives, at least in conversations with the media, use "that." The following real-life examples were all too easy to find:

"Especially for customers that only use voice-response systems."

"Customers that want to buy."

"The people that choose."

Not exactly high crimes and misdemeanors to arouse the wrath of regulators, but trust and private bankers' language is different:

"People who have earned their wealth look at it differently from people who have inherited their wealth."

"We have an increasing number of clients who also want to have the option of electronic touch."

Perhaps it has something to do with the amount of money at stake. Whatever the case, trust and private bankers seem less likely to forget that a "client" is a somebody, if not actually in "Who's Who."

In any event, it's obvious the grammatical slip-ups so common in the industry are unintentional. As one retail banker noted, "The customer is the most important thing we have." (Emphasis added.)

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