Crisis fails to dampen art service demand at banks

MILAN (Reuters) - Valuing a Picasso or a rare Roman coin are not services most of us need, but the extra wealthy who do should still be able to rely on their bank for them, despite pressure for cuts in such add-on offers.

Global financial turmoil has triggered deep job cuts at banks and sliding profits, crimping spending among clients.

But banks are unlikely to cut these extra services because they are seen as a hook to retain the wealthiest clients.

“I definitely believe the art advisory service belongs to the overall wealth management offer. I don’t think it will be cut back,” said Karl Schweizer, head of art banking and numismatics at UBS.

Italy’s AIPB private banking association concurred.

“Even in difficult markets, private banks cannot stop supporting their clients” by offering a full range of services including art, real estate and tax planning, it said.

Barclays Wealth Vice-Chairman Gerard Aquilina told the Reuters Wealth Management Summit this week that the industry had seen a growing market for this kind of service.

“Certainly it’s a market that has grown in terms of valuations of art work and recent auctions show that the market still seems buoyant,” he said.

UBS’ Schweizer said one recent coin auction had achieved sales more than 170 percent over estimates, with another netting 50 percent more.


Many wealthy clients are increasingly focusing on tangibles such as gold or art which has an aesthetic worth as they see ephemeral financial investments losing value.

“Gold, diamonds, at the moment investments in precious stones are also doing well,” said Marco Mazzoni, founder and chairman of Magstat which tracks private banking in Italy.

Sebastian Dovey, managing partner of Scorpio Partnership, echoed that view at the Reuters Wealth Management Summit.

“Clients will ... be moving to what they would consider tangible assets that still have residual or retained value in what would become a recessionary market,” he said.

“That would suggest moving toward the old favorites, like art, precious metals, collectibles of any kind that have a residual value.”

Some clients are taking current falling markets as a chance to pick up pieces for a collection.

“The average art buyer is perhaps a bit reserved but the high net worth individual may see that as an opportunity to buy a piece he’s wanted for some time,” Schweizer said.

“But he’s fixing the price,” he added.

A real collector is likely to rely on a personal specialist adviser, bankers said, leaving the wealth management industry to provide more general advice.

Some banks have their own specialists in house while others outsource, keeping close links with an auction house. Italy’s UniCredit uses Christie’s, in Italy, for example, while rival Intesa Sanpaolo works with Eikonos Arte, according to Magstat.

Dario Prunotto, chief executive of UniCredit Private Banking, told the Reuters Wealth Management summit clients could say they were interested in art but “in reality they continue to invest in financial assets at a lower risk profile.”

Real or aspirational, clients look set to continue to expect these services from their banks.

Editing by Sharon Lindores