Flying first-class to the bank: Wealthy customers are offered many extras, reports Vivien Goldsmith

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The Independent Online
BARCLAYS is joining the ranks of banks that offer a little bit more to wealthier customers.

This is part of the gradual segmentation of the banking market to provide first class, club class and economy versions of the standard current account service.

Barclays's Premier Banking is running from 30 centres as part of a pilot scheme due to run for at least another six months. Customers who earn at least pounds 30,000 will be invited to sign up for the service, which costs pounds 40 a year.

John Cheese, personal sector marketing director, said: 'Some of our customers have more sophisticated needs, and they will need a broader relationship with us.' The personal managers take the initiative in dealings with clients. For instance, they will telephone clients to remind them that the deadline for putting money into personal equity plans is approaching.

Premier Banking clients will be directed towards the independent advice arm of Barclays rather than the tied salesforce that sells only Barclays' own investment and insurance products. They will also receive chequebooks with a gold livery and a pounds 100 cheque guarantee card.

When Midland launched Firstdirect, it also quietly launched a parallel Premier service for customers earning at least pounds 50,000 who could also pass a stringent credit-scoring test. Customers pay pounds 5 a month and get an automatic pounds 10,000 overdraft at a cheap rate - currently 9 per cent compared with 16.2 per cent for ordinary Firstdirect customers. But if Premier customers go over the limit there is a pounds 20 monthly management charge. There is also a pounds 250 cheque guarantee card and a Gold Visa card.

Lloyds Bank already has 30 private banking offices around the country, catering for customers who want individual attention. There is also a network of 18 branches worldwide providing international banking - with the UK office in Mayfair - dealing with 'ultra high net worth' individuals with perhaps pounds 500,000 to invest.

Private banking customers get a distinctive maroon chequebook, an automatic overdraft of pounds 17,500 at a preferential rate - currently 11.3 per cent, withdrawals up to pounds 500, and other services such as a cash sweep into an investment account. There are no fees, even when the account is overdrawn.

A spokesman for Lloyds said: 'The philosophy behind our private banking is that it is dynamic. We try to make money work for the customer.'

National Westminster offers those with an income over pounds 25,000 the Gold Plus service, which has an automatic pounds 10,000 overdraft, no fees even when overdrawn, a gold Mastercard and free use of NatWest Stockbrokers telephone dealing service.

Coutts, where the Queen banks, is part of the NatWest group, and sometimes NatWest customers will be directed to its services. 'We operate at the top end of the market,' said Michael Maslinski, head of business development. 'Our charges are a little higher as our banking services are aimed at those with above-average income and assets.' Customers pay pounds 30 a quarter unless their average balance over the period is more than pounds 3,000, in which case the charge is waived.

Customers are expected to have at least pounds 150,000 in investments and income of at least pounds 50,000. The bank has a branch in Eton, which is handy for the boys at the school, who do not meet these criteria, but it is providing a service for the whole family. It opened a new branch in Leeds last October and is considering a moest expansion outside London. 'You will not find us on every high street,' Mr Maslinski said.

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