How rich is rich?

October 5, 2010

How rich is rich? For most people, the answer is simple: “not me.” But for private bankers keen to handle the assets of the well-heeled from Moscow to Malibu, that question is a slippery one. Sometimes a simple number won’t do, either.

Just about every executive at Reuters Global Private Banking summit in Geneva has a different standard for what those in the business call “ultra high net worth individuals”, the really rich that are the industry’s prime catch.

For example, Britain’s Coutts & Co, which counts Queen Elisabeth II among its clients, likes at least 30 million pounds in total net worth and 10 million pounds in liquid assets.

At UBS, it’s $50 million in investable assets. JP Morgan’s private bank sets the bar at $20 million. UniCredit demands 30 million euros. Citibank wants $25 million. 

Afraid your bank account doesn’t make the grade? Don’t despair. Sometimes potential is enough to go “ultra”

Alberto Valenzuela, deputy CEO of Societe Generale private banking in Switzerland, says the sophistication that a client shows could put him or her among the ultra-wealthy years before a defining “cash event”. Getting 100 million euros in a will, he says, can make you a wealthy client, but not necessarily a sophisticated one.

Below the “ultras” — way below — banks stake out an area for “high net worth individuals”. At Coutts, that’s 5 million pounds in total net worth, for Societe Generale 5 million euros. Rock-bottom entry to private banks is for the “affluent” — 500,000 euros at UniCredit. At Spain’s BBVA, it’s 300,000 euros, sliding to $100,000 or clients in China.

Banks tend to focus on a rigid bottom line. The defining line for the really rich, on the other hand, is wobbly.

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