First Union Corp. has hired Thomas Clapp, Merrill Lynch & Co.’s director of private investments, to head its First Investment Advisors high-net-worth asset management unit.

As the division’s executive managing director and chief investment officer, Mr. Clapp oversees a team of investment management professionals in 40 offices spanning 11 states along the East Coast.

He is responsible for beefing up First Investment’s high-net-worth business, and helping clients maximize their after-tax results through a combination of stock selection, fixed-income management, alternative investments, and asset allocation.

First Investment Advisors manages $53 billion of assets for individuals, families, private foundations and charitable trusts.

Mr. Clapp has filled a slot that stood empty for two months after the departure of Alan Adelman, who is now chief investment strategist for Wells Fargo & Co.’s private client services group.

Mr. Clapp said First Investment is better equipped than Merrill Lynch Private Investors to bring in wealthy clients and that that’s one reason he joined the Charlotte, N.C., company.

“First Union has been doing this for a long time,” he said. “It has been part of their core focus for many years, and it has committed the capital and the resources.”

Mr. Clapp was the Merrill unit’s chief investment officer for a year and was responsible for its high-net-worth separate account business.

He also has roots in the Charlotte area. Before moving to Princeton, N.J., to work at Merrill, he was the chief investment officer of equity management and senior investment strategist at Bank of America Corp. in Charlotte. Still earlier in his career he was a portfolio manager for institutional, endowment, and foundation accounts at First Union.

Eric Hendrickson, a spokesman for Merrill Lynch Private Investors, said the unit has a strong standing in the high-net-worth marketplace, with $45 billion of assets and a good distribution network. Its net sales have risen 58% since 1998, and last year it drew $5 billion of new assets, he said.

“The high-net-worth market is a key focus for us and will continue to get close attention from our senior management,” Mr. Hendrickson said.

Dennis Ferro, chief investment officer of First Capital Group, a First Union subsidiary and the parent of First Investment Advisors, said Mr. Clapp will help First Union build its affluent base and that there is ample room for growth.

“With the surge in new wealth being created and the tremendous inheritance gains beginning to occur, there’s more demand than ever for talent and experience in investment management,” Mr. Ferro said.

David Ross Palmer, a principal in the wealth management practice with the consulting firm LoBue Associates Inc., in Northbrook, Ill., said that despite recent market turns, Merrill Lynch has a 20% share of the high-net-worth market. Commercial banking companies like First Union, on the other hand, serve less than 15% of the high-net-worth customer base, he said.

If a company like First Union were to “get its act together,” it would be able to develop a major share of the market, Mr. Palmer said.

“Commercial banks have all the products and a vast customer base with which they are already doing business,” he said. “But we don’t see any banks in the United States pulling it all together.”

First Union has the capabilities to get the job done, Mr. Palmer said. “If they ever harness them and got them moving in the right direction, they could beat Merrill, but despite their best efforts, they don’t.”

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