Wealth managers offer bespoke expertise

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They offer a bespoke service to make day-to-day banking more pleasant, as well as cut down the research, administration and hassle of securing your and your family's financial future.

There are four main types of wealth managers - old-established boutiques, the private banking arms of clearing banks, accountancy or law firm off-shoots, and those run by investment banks, stock brokers and private client fund managers. They all tend to offer similar services - current and deposit accounts, asset management, estate planning, tax, pension and life assurance advice - but each with a different emphasis.

Traditional boutiques, such as C. Hoare & Co, pride themselves on the 'speed, quality and accuracy' of their day-to-day banking, and an image that many find attractive. But the gold-embossed cheque books with blotting paper and the attentions of managers who sign their letters, 'Your obedient servant', do not come cheap.

At Coutts & Co customers are expected to keep a minimum balance of 3,000 (€4,470) on their current account or be stung for a quarterly charge of 45 plus an additional 75p each time they withdraw or deposit money. Similar arrangements apply at C. Hoare and Co, Adam and Co et al. Portfolio management is outsourced at Coutts, and there are no standard fees for financial advice.

Simon Lough, financial director at Private Office, the wealth management arm of law firm Cripps Harries Hall, says bank accounts are not a priority for his customers. 'We can certainly arrange a high-quality banking service through Citibank, with whom we have a special relationship, but for the most part our clients are more interested in estate planning and tax advice, which is mostly fee-based.'

Rather than making a bee-line for the well known brands, he says, you should shop around to meet various institutions before making a commitment. 'This may seem like a hassle, but the relationship with your financial manager is a large part of what you are buying, so it's important he means business and that you'll get on. If you are made to feel uncomfortable because you don't have a double-barrelled name, for example, you should go elsewhere.'

Asking how many clients he already has on his plate, which can range from 15 to 200, and getting a few written cost quotations is a good idea too.

People come to the private banking arm of a clearing bank for the security that a very large organisation can offer, says Peter Ploughman of Midland Private Banking. 'Most of our clients are referred to us from Midland branches on the high street, and they have confidence the transition to private banking will be as smooth as possible, and that their bank is not likely to go bust.'

But beware the clearing bank mentality, say rivals the advice MPB offers is commission-based, though not limited to Midland's own products.

Strong investment expertise is the attraction of the private banking divisions of merchant banks, stockbroking firms and private client fund managers, according to Christopher Anderson at Rathbones. 'The advantage of successful in-house asset management is continuity. New customers who come to us with existing portfolios are accommodated - they are not shoe-horned into the investment policy of a preferred supplier.'

While EFG and Cripps Harries Hall deal largely with high net-worth individuals, Merrill Lynch and Rathbones cater more for the mid-market, welcoming people with as little as 100,000 to invest.

Nearly all wealth managers will negotiate on their customer criteria, accepting those with good prospects on the recommendation of friends or family. According to Henry Hoare, chairman of traditional boutique C. Hoare & Co, merely having lots of money is not enough - one has to be 'the right sort'. At Coutts, an Eton education alone will suffice, whatever your financial circumstances.