A forthcoming card available to the high-net-worth customers of UBS, the world's largest wealth manager, could set a lofty new standard in creating high-end experiences over and above the already cushy norm of personal concierges, spa trips and tee times at top-tier golf courses. In addition to the pro package, the UBS program includes such rarefied rewards as a trip to a vineyard to design your own wine.
A spokeswoman for UBS, which is issuing the card through Juniper Bank on both the American Express and Visa networks, declined to comment other than to say it would be launched in the next month.
Executives familiar with it say the card will come with a rewards program that's both highly customizable and so plush that those opportunities to golf with greats and create a vintage don't fall within even the highest tier of rewards.
Juniper, part of the Barclays Group, will issue an American Express charge card and a Visa Signature credit card with a consolidated rewards program that will take into account spending on both cards. The dual-card program for UBS Wealth Management USA clients was established because of complaints when rewards points are spread across cards.
Benefits of both
This kind of partnership "gets around the argument of what card you should carry," said Mary Pugh, director of marketing at Prime Resources Corp., Bridgeport, Conn. and a former executive at MasterCard. "It imbues the high-end qualities of American Express card and gives that to Visa and, meanwhile, you get that huge network of merchants that carry the card."
A 2004 court ruling opened the door for banks that issue Visa and MasterCard to also offer American Express. Now MBNA and Citigroup both issue cards with all three brands.
Since 1998, when Merrill Lynch first issued the Visa Signature card to take on American Express Platinum, then the gold standard in plastic, competition for the balances of the most affluent customers has been stiff.
In 1999, American Express fired back with its Centurian-or "black card"-exclusive enough that some of its holders complain that it's sometimes turned down. To be eligible, cardholders have to charge more than $150,000 a year and they pay a fee of $2,500. The terms of the new UBS offering were not immediately available.
As far as rewards go, air travel and catalog shopping has given way to private-jet travel and access to concierges that will do more than just book travel arrangements.
Black-card-holder Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur and CEO of PR firm Geek Factory, was traveling last year when his grandmother was hospitalized and she became depressed. He called his personal concierge and asked that something be sent to cheer her up.
The result? A 6-foot tall stuffed kangaroo that, Mr. Shankman said, lifted her mood and helped get her out of the hospital shortly thereafter.
"That's worth more than any reward," he said. "And it's worth every bit of the fee."