Bank of Boston Corp. is building a private banking presence around the edges of New York City.
The company recently opened an office in White Plains, N.Y., and has tapped vice president William S. Leib, a former Citicorp private banking executive, to oversee the operation.
By putting its office in the Westchester County suburb, Bank of Boston is continuing a strategy of avoiding New York City, which is already saturated with private banking outlets. The White Plains location is essentially an annex of the regional office in Stamford, Conn., another affluent New York suburb.
Among the established competitors: Bank of New York, Chase Manhattan Corp., Bankers Trust New York Corp., U.S. Trust Corp., J.P. Morgan & Co., and Citicorp. Most of those banks meet with clients in the city itself, not in the suburbs.
But Bank of Boston is hoping to reach customers where they live.
"We believe that people of wealth prefer to have their financial matters handled locally rather than from an office in Manhattan," said Neal B. Rubin, a Bank of Boston senior vice president.
Besides Bank of Boston, at least two other institutions, Fleet Financial Group Inc. and Bank of New York Co., have chosen to set up shop in the New York suburbs.
Fleet recently upgraded its private client group in Westchester after acquiring 21 branches there when it bought National Westminster Bank USA earlier this year. And Bank of New York has a White Plains office with private bankers and trust officers.
Given that competitive environment, industry observers deem it curious Bank of Boston is giving the New York suburbs a go.
"The whole Westchester area is very overbanked. And, Bank of Boston has questionable name recognition there," said a private banking consultant, who asked not to be named.
Nevertheless, Bank of Boston is pressing on.
By Mr. Rubin's estimate, there are more than 21,000 households in Westchester that would meet his private bank's minimum. Bank of Boston's private bank manages $20 billion for clients with at least $500,000 in investable assets.
A spokesman for Bankers Trust, which has a $5 million private banking minimum and manages $200 billion for wealthy clients, said it may not have an office in Westchester, but that its customers from all over the New York metropolitan area are comfortable with its midtown Manhattan location.
"Someone from Westchester or New Jersey is not going to avoid us because we're in New York," he said.