Banks cater to those with high-value assets

SEATTLE — Affluent consumers have always been coveted by banks, but even more so now during the weak economic recovery.

JPMorgan Chase recently launched its Chase Private Client service in Washington state, starting in seven branches and aiming for 40 by the end of the year. The service — which targets high net-worth customers with $500,000 to $5 million in investable assets — offers these customers better prices on investment products and a broader array of investments than the average customer. Some branches will even have separate entrances and meeting rooms to give these clients more privacy.

JPMorgan Chase said it already has 2 million customers nationwide who each have investable assets of $500,000 to $5 million, and it hopes to attract more of their money as well as additional wealthy clients.

Meanwhile, US Bank has selected Seattle as its third city for a national rollout of Ascent, an advisory service for the ultra-wealthy. Ascent, which will open a Seattle office in June, works with clients who have at least $25 million in net worth.

"This is a great time to roll this out because the ultra-wealthy are the fastest growing client base in the world," said Michael Cole, president of Ascent Private Capital Management. "They recovered quickly from 2008."


The target market

The rich, indeed, are getting richer: According to a new analysis of Internal Revenue Service data, from 2009 to 2010 the incomes of the top 1 percent grew by 11.6 percent, while those of the bottom 99 percent rose by 0.2 percent.

The Great Recession depressed the top 1 percent's share of national income only temporarily, said Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California-Berkeley who wrote the analysis. That group's wealth has rebounded faster than the bottom 99 percent because its wealth is more strongly linked to corporate profits and dividends than to wages, he said.

Previously, JPMorgan Chase didn't have a dedicated service for this type of customer, and they weren't offered services tailored to their special needs, said Jeff Shular, JPMorgan's market manager for Western Washington.

These customers now will be able to have their banking and investment needs taken care of in the branches, with a financial adviser who can act as a concierge, pulling in specialists and information as needed, he said.

'Complete immersion'

Meanwhile, US Bank plans to focus more resources on the super-rich by opening an Ascent office in downtown Seattle, run initially by a six-person team that will handle no more than 20 ultra-wealthy clients.

"It's a very high-touch model because of the nature and complexity of these clients," Cole said.


Ascent is building out a space in Seattle that will be like a mini-university for wealthy families. The children of the wealthy will be able to learn how to travel worldwide safely, while those who are older can engage in discussions about how to align their wealth with their values, he said. The center also will give advice on how to ensure the family's wealth is sustained through several generations.

"It's designed to create a complete immersion experience for these families," Cole said. "They often get isolated because they don't have a network of peers to be able to learn from."

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