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Where Same-Sex Couples Bank Without Fear

With the news that Citibank screens some of its clients for “objectionable content” — and applies that screening process to gay-themed businesses — many LGBT business people and Citi customers are probably wondering where their business is truly welcome. Luckily, Jeremy Quitner of The Advocate has a great run-down of banking programs designed to cater to the needs of LGBT clients — and, specifically, to the special needs of same-sex couples.

Quitner explains why targeted LGBT banking and financial planning programs are so important.

“It boils down to marriage rights,” says Jennifer Hatch, president of Christopher Street Financial, one of the oldest financial advisories for gays and lesbians, based in New York. “The average straight couple gets a lot of their financial setup simply by saying ‘I do.’”

As LGBT rights advocates have often argued, marriage confers certain legal rights that makes everything easier — and it includes banking.

But some groups, like Christopher Street Financial, work specifically with same-sex couples and LGBT individuals to design financial plans in accordance with their sometimes unique needs and, in the last decade, has seen competitors finally pop up all over the country. Chicago’s Northern Trust, which deals exclusively with high net-worth individuals — a lucrative income stream for many retail banks — just launched its first practice aimed at high net-worth individuals with non-traditional family relationships. Boston’s Wainwright Bank started issuing affiliate credit cards in the 90s that gave a portion of the proceeds to LGBT rights groups — and it says that 10 percent of its employees are openly gay, including two senior executives and one member of the board.

Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, worked to reach out to the LGBT community for 20 years, though it only established a specific LGBT practice in 2005, and in 2009 it began a program to certify financial planners to work with same-sex couples. Bank of America’s wealth advisory practice through its Merrill Lynch affiliate — again, a personalized banking service aimed at high net-worth individuals — will nonetheless work with LGBT individuals or couples in any income bracket for financial planning fees ranging from $250 -$1,000.

Interestingly, Citibank today announced that it plans to double its private banking force over the next two years. It is not reportedly dedicating any of those new private banking resources to an LGBT-specific practice. Apparently, the money in the LGBT community that is attracting attention from its big competitors isn’t of enough interest to Citibank.

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