A few years ago, a client of Wells Fargo & Co.'s private bank unexpectedly lost his spouse of 50 years.
The widower quickly went into a tailspin: deeply depressed, isolated, not eating well, not even paying bills. But after a neighbor approached Wells on the man's behalf, things began to change.
With the help of the banking company's elder services program, the client saw a doctor and was prescribed an antidepressant, which he needed simply to get to the point of grieving. Executives in the Wells program made sure that food was delivered to the house and the bills got paid.
And after learning that the man and his wife had been deeply involved with their church, they found someone to take him there on Sundays so that he could begin to reconnect socially.
The client story is an example, albeit a particularly dramatic one, of a service offering to which Wells is increasingly committed. Since March, the private bank has rolled out the service in about 40 places along the Eastern Seaboard. It now has 67 such sites in the Wells-Wachovia Corp. footprint.
The service, available to private bank clients, aims to help older people maintain their independence and quality of life. It combines wealth management with assistance on everything from the death of a spouse to mobility and health challenges.
Wells sees great potential in its elder services offering, said Keith Klovee-Smith, its national manager. Demand will likely rise because the number of Americans older than 60 will double in the next 20 to 30 years, he said.
"Wells Fargo prides itself on serving customers across their entire lifetime," said Klovee-Smith. "This is a way to follow through with that commitment."
Apparently, not many banking companies see the same value in packaging private banking with elder services. Harris Private Bank, in Chicago, offer similar services, but it is not clear that any other U.S. bank does.
"This is something that should be considered by most players in the private banking space," said Alois Pirker, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "Wells is ahead of the curve."
Elder services are another building block for banks looking to develop a "trusted adviser" reputation, said Pirker. They may be helpful in both attracting and retaining clients, he added.
Wells executives started planning to expand elder services to the East Coast "almost as soon as the idea of a merger with Wachovia came about," said Klovee-Smith. "Wachovia did not have anything like elder services, so we had to wait for the consolidation of our charters before presenting elder services in the East."
The eastern private banking offices that offer elder services are in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, southern New Jersey, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Wells plans to expand throughout the East based on demand.
It now has about 220 professionals with elder services credentials. It also has a network of service providers that bankers can call for help with everything from medical care to pet care.
About half the clients in Wells' program are those who will be assisted directly by its elder services. The other half are relatives, typically children and grandchildren, Klovee-Smith said.
Wells' elder services program has been around since 1997. Two years ago, the private bank expanded the program into Chicago, then its easternmost outpost.
The program is now available in 25 states. Klovee-Smith declined to say how many clients it has; two years ago there were about 250.
Clients pay 2% of assets annually for the combination of private banking and elder services. Break points for wealthier clients let them pay as little as 80 basis points for the combined services, said Klovee-Smith.