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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Super perks for VIP customers

Credit card firms and luxury-brand retailers are pampering big clients
The Sunday Times - April 6, 2014
By: Bryna Singh
| More
Super perks for VIP customers Maybank Singapore flew four cardmembers and their guests, including Madam Shirley Seow (back row, second from right) and her son Daryl (first row, far right), to Manchester in Britain, where they watched Manchester United play Wigan live at Old Trafford.

It has been more than a year, but Madam Shirley Seow and her son Daryl Chua still talk about a trip they took together in September 2012.

They were flown by Maybank Singapore to Manchester in Britain, to watch Manchester United play Wigan in Old Trafford, home of the Manchester United football club.

At that match, mother and son, now 11, were hosted by United football legend Pat Crerand, a former midfielder.

During the five-day trip, they also had the rare chance to sit in on the football team's training session. The bank covered the cost of the flights and accommodation, which came up to about $10,000 for two.

"My son and I are big fans of the club, so we were extremely happy about the trip," says Madam Seow, 44, deputy general manager of Pioneer Electronics Asiacentre. "We felt so privileged. I always remind my son that few people have such an opportunity."

As one of the top spenders of the Maybank Manchester United Platinum Visa Card, she was picked for the exclusive trip, along with three other cardmembers and their guests.

Credit card companies, luxury-brand retailers and high-end alcohol brands have been pulling out the stops to pamper their top-spending customers with experiences that money sometimes cannot buy.

Such treats can range from private dining events with Michelin-starred chefs to private shopping sessions with a celebrity stylist to being flown to Los Angeles to watch the Grammy Awards.

Making customers feel special is not new, but retail experts say merchants have been upping their offerings in recent years.

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at the Singapore Management University, says "the competition for offering superior membership benefits has now become even more frantic".

He adds: "The super rich class of consumers are global in their outlook and thirsty for ever more exotic experiences."

Dr Lynda Wee, an adjunct associate professor specialising in retail management at Nanyang Technological University, agrees and says merchants have been offering "experiential" treats, especially in the last 10 years or so.

She says: "In the past, if you buy something, you may get a free gift, such as an umbrella.

"Now, when you buy something, you get invited to a private show or a spa or to an exclusive dining event. You experience it, you take pictures, you get to interact with people."

Maybank Singapore says it holds special events on a quarterly basis and these are part of their "endeavour to reward our valued premium cardmembers". There are various ways to ascertain a customer's spending power.

For instance, the DBS Insignia Visa Infinite card has a starting credit limit of $1 million, which means members, who qualify strictly by invitation, can charge at least $1 million to the card.

The UOB Reserve Card, which targets the top 1 per cent of affluent individuals in Singapore, is extended by invitation only to clients who have deposits and investments with the bank of at least $2 million, and also to some high-spending customers.

UOB Reserve cardholder Lynn Tan, 35, recalls going for three dining events hosted by the bank, two of which were held in the same month.

The first was a dinner hosted by multi- Michelin-starred chef Hide Yamamoto last August, where he created a customised fusion French-Japanese menu for the 40 guests - 20 top-spending cardmembers who were each accompanied by one guest.

Ms Tan, who owns a company that distributes and retails beauty products, says: "It was a fantastic experience seeing him in person and having food prepared by him. I even got to take a picture with him at the end."

Two weeks after that, she went for another dinner where the founding members of Lebanese luxury jeweller Mouawad introduced its private summer collection to 20 cardmembers and their guests.

"We could try on the pieces and buy them on the spot," recalls Ms Tan, who says she enjoys the cosy, intimate setting of such events. "The group is not too big or rowdy, and you feel comfortable networking and chatting with the other guests."

UOB's head of cards and payments, Ms Gan Ai Im, says the bank's relationship managers usually make it a point to understand their cardmembers' lifestyle needs so as to invite them to events they are "most likely to enjoy".

Last year, OCBC Bank held a joint event with the local distributor of the luxury car brand Infiniti, where 80 of the bank's customers had a meet-and-greet with retired Formula One driver Mark Webber. Selected customers also received autographed merchandise from Webber.

Retailers, too, offer customised experiences for their VIP shoppers.

Home-grown watch chain HourGlass organises trips to Switzerland once or twice a year for VIP clients, who get to see first-hand how luxury timepieces are crafted by hand.

Some events are even more exclusive.

In October 2012, two female Maybank Singapore cardmembers were treated to a personal styling session by Emmy Award- winning costume designer Patricia Field, stylist for the Sex And The City TV series and movie.

One of them was Mrs A. Tan, 47, an associate director in a financial services firm. The mother of three was given 30 minutes to shop at luxury retail company Club 21 with Field, who picked about 15 items of clothing for her.

"Patricia really opened my eyes to new things. I took her suggestions, since styling is her forte," says Mrs Tan.

"I was exhausted after trying on 10 to 12 pieces. I ended up spending about $9,000. This includes the $5,000 spending money the bank gave us. The whole experience made me feel important and appreciated as a customer."

Dr Ramaswami says customers will be wooed with increasingly better offers, although this means that merchants and credit card firms will continue to engage in a "benefits war", where they keep having to offer more attractive rewards to retain their consumers.

Dr Wee adds: "If you don't pamper them, someone else will. The scene is very competitive. Can you afford to not pamper your customers?"

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