Bank of America Corp. sold its special fiduciary services division because it could not find a "natural fit" for it in any of its wealth management businesses, according to a spokesman, and the division's founder said he felt as if the Charlotte company were "encumbered" by it.
The division, which B of A acquired as part of the July 2007 purchase of U.S. Trust Corp. from Charles Schwab Corp., was sold last week to Evercore Partners Inc., a boutique New York investment manager. The price was not disclosed.
John Yiannacopoulos, a spokesman for B of A, said the division, which provides independent fiduciary services for employee benefit plans, was divested because there was no "natural fit" for it at the company, "due to the specialized nature of the team."
Charles E. Wert, who founded the special fiduciary services division at U.S. Trust in 1987 and continued to run it at B of A, said in an interview last week that the business "was always in transition" there, because B of A "never could find the right niche for us."
"With everything that is going on at Bank of America, there are a lot of organization changes, and needless to say, we needed the ability for people to focus on our business," Wert said. "We need to act quickly and in a moment of need for our clients. With everything going on and continuing to go on at Bank of America, we felt stymied."
The division had $12.8 billion of assets under management as of March 31. Wert said it is a bit unusual, because it invests heavily in company stocks, including Fortune 500 companies, and that made it a difficult fit at B of A.
"When you think about it, Bank of America bought U.S. Trust for its wealth management business, and then they found an anomaly in this division," he said. "Though we were profitable, they came to the realization that we were just not a good enough fit."
Yiannacopoulos agreed that the investments in company stocks created "potential for conflicts of interest with other parts of the bank."
Analysts said that, considering the variety of acquisitions B of A has made in the past two years, there could be more divestitures.
"B of A needs to do a thoughtful review of all the accumulated businesses that they have gotten from various deals and determine what can and cannot be integrated," said Geoffrey Bobroff, an analyst with Bobroff Consulting Inc. in East Greenwich, Conn. "It probably makes a lot of sense to dispose of units that don't fit the long-term game plan at B of A."
Most banking companies are evaluating small business units to determine if it is better to "expand or sell," he said. "For companies that have scale and interest, it makes sense to buy these things."
Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Capital Markets, said he expects bankers "to sell off a lot of divisions that don't make sense" in the next two years. "I think a lot of banks are examining their organizational priorities," he said. "They can sell ancillary business, rather than needing to raise capital. Ultimately, this will shrink the balance sheet and allow them to build capital by selling businesses."
Evercore launched a wealth management business in November; that business had $644 million of assets under management as of March 31. The company said it will incorporate the specialist fiduciary services division into Evercore Trust Co., a unit that launched Friday. Wert was named president and chief executive officer of the trust company.
"With Evercore, we have a platform from which we can solicit business and gain further market share," he said.
Roger C. Altman, Evercore's chairman and CEO and a former Treasury Department deputy secretary, said in a press release that the trust unit will help his company diversify its revenue mix.