Private bank woos women, probably not feminists

RBS Coutts launches a women-specific private banking initiative, noting that women "wish to be treated like a man but spoken to like a woman".

RBS Coutts, the international private banking arm of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, has launched a new private banking initiative tailored specifically for the high-net-worth (HNW) woman in Asia.

At first blush, this feels a bit gimmicky -- or even worse, arguably condescending -- suggesting that the way traditional investment advice is delivered isn't appropriate for women. Indeed, the bank says women want to be spoken to in a different manner to men.

"Wealthy women in Asia are highly involved in investment decision making and expect their private bankers to provide timely and tailored counsel. Our study shows that HNW women expect product offerings to be no different from those offered to their male counterparts, but they demand the approach in servicing them to be tailored to the needs of women. What this suggests, is that they wish to be treated like a man but spoken to like a woman," says Esther Heer, head of private banking North Asia at RBS Coutts, in a press release announcing the programme.

While I thought I'd not met such women in business circles in the past few decades, at least one woman I spoke to yesterday said she agreed with the statement. And it certainly doesn't discount that the untapped wealth is in fact real. Or that targeting sales does work.

According to a study commissioned by RBS Coutts in 2008, the current penetration of the HNW woman segment -- women with investible assets of more than $1 million -- by professional wealth managers is low. In Hong Kong it is just 26%, or the equivalent of $40 billion of assets under management; and in Singapore 23%, totalling $16 billion of assets currently under management.

The study shows that there is a large untapped market, potentially worth approximately $55 billion in Singapore and $112 billion in Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong has more than double the number of HNW women compared with Singapore. It is estimated that there are some 16,000 HNW women in Singapore with an average net worth of $4.2 million; and more than 37,000 HNW women in Hong Kong with an average net worth of $4.4 million, according to the study.  

"Having lived and worked in Hong Kong for over 20 years, I have seen the number of high-net-worth women in Asia increase dramatically," says Heer. "Successful career women are no longer a rare breed and their contributions to business and society have never been greater. RBS Coutts Woman addresses the growing voices of high-net-worth women who tell us that there is insufficient understanding of their needs in managing their wealth. Our aim is simple: to empower women to achieve more -- financially and beyond -- in their way."

RBS Coutts boasts that it is in a unique position to introduce this new initiative. It brags that "for more than three centuries, the bank's UK-based sister company Coutts & Co has managed the financial affairs of distinguished individuals from all walks of life, yielding invaluable insights into their lives and their attitudes to wealth". 

In addition to clients like Charles Dickens and Frederic Chopin, Coutts says it has also managed the finances of many successful women. The two women it lists in its press release are Sophia Jex-Blake, the first woman to qualify as a doctor of medicine, and famed soprano Dame Nellie Melba, who inspired a dessert named in her honour. The former, surely would have business-minded feminists pleased, but seeking to have a dessert named after you...not sure that's an aim for many hard-working women these days.

"The women-specific approach broke new ground in the UK when it was launched several years ago; and continues to be very successful. We aim to deliver an equally tailored and effective proposition to women in Asia," says Heer. 

In addition to offering clients a full suite of bespoke wealth management services, RBS Coutts Woman is also a platform to bring like-minded women together to interact and engage in their passions such as the arts, sports or philanthropy.  

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