When Bryn Mawr Trust Co. of Pennsylvania established a limited-purpose trust company in Delaware a year ago, the top executives of the two outfits hoped it would generate $250 million of assets under advisement in its first year.
But then the economy crumbled — and the new venture accumulated $490 million of assets.
"This thing has taken off better than we thought it would," Frederick C. "Ted" Peters, the chairman and chief executive of the parent company Bryn Mawr Bank Corp., said in an interview last week. "We think now this can be a $1 billion company within the next 12 to 18 months. We are way ahead of where we thought it would be."
Peters said he does not think the economic crisis has necessarily led clients to Bryn Mawr's Delaware trust company, but as competitors have dealt with internal problems, the Pennsylvania company has been able to spend the past year "hustling" to develop new customer relationships, he said.
"People want a Delaware trust company that will be responsive," Peters said. "There is one large provider" — PNC Financial Services Group Inc. of Pittsburgh — "that is exiting the market and other large providers that are not responsive."
Bryn Mawr is targeting its trust services at accounting and law firms. Matthew Waschull, Bryn Mawr Trust Co. of Delaware's chairman and president, said it is also developing business from certified public accountants and asset management firms that do not offer trust services.
Peters added that though Bryn Mawr is offering its trust services nationally, it is finding a lot of customers in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington.
"We have been meeting with trust and estate attorneys, and they are frankly trying us out," he said. "They are doing so because they are not happy with the larger trust companies in Delaware. This experience has been a home run for us so far. We are looking for ways to continue to grow from here."
Analysts said the honeymoon period can be brief for wealth management companies entering a new sector or market.
Geoffrey Bobroff of Bobroff Consulting in East Greenwich, R.I., said there are probably close to 40 trust companies in Delaware. Firms including Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wilmington Trust Co. are the largest providers, but a variety of smaller providers are also vying for share, he said. "As a general theme, it is hard to enter a new area," Bobroff said. "People have an affinity for certain brands that they are accustomed to. I mean, in the Northeast, we have seen a lot of brands disappear, so people are willing to give a new player a shot. It is hard in the trust area because it is so service- and performance-oriented. You can smother them with service initially, but the proof is in the results long-term."
Waschull said, "Most of the time, we are not openly in competition with another company."
"We are trying to cultivate and deepen the relationships that Bryn Mawr has had for years," he added. "We are trying to introduce new solutions and broadening our value proposition."
After Bryn Mawr Trust of Delaware gets to $1 billion, it expects to grow at a compounded annual rate of 15% to 20%, Peters said. "We came out of the gate a lot better than we thought," he said. "The test is to maintain that growth from here."
Bryn Mawr entered Delaware in July 2008 when it bought Lau Associates LLC of Wilmington, a financial planning and investment advisory firm with $525 million of assets under management.
Waschull said Bryn Mawr Trust of Delaware is working with Lau to cross-sell products and services, while the two entities' assets remain separate.
"Our growth strategy has been very targeted," he said. "We want to carefully work our way outward from Philadelphia and the western suburbs to Wilmington, Del., and other key areas like Washington and New York where law firms do a lot of key trust and estate planning. We are carefully executing this growth."
Peters said Bryn Mawr is already getting a "steady stream of trust business" from estate planning attorneys in New York.
"This is a business where people want service," he said. "The pricing is pretty standard. This is a business that is all about service and responsiveness."
Waschull called Bryn Mawr's trust services "competitively priced."
"We are not a low-cost provider, but we do want to compete for new business," he said. "So we are always willing to negotiate price in order to remain competitive."
Bryn Mawr Trust of Delaware has a team of three trust officers, but it also has a cross-servicing agreement with Bryn Mawr Trust of Pennsylvania, which has a staff of seven attorneys and three certified public accountants. Peters said the company plans to add to its head count as it grows.
He said it has used an "aggressive" approach to win new business. "It all goes back to knocking on doors," he said. "A lot of it is a numbers game. If you see 20 to 25 attorneys a month and keep in contact, you will start to create a good amount of deal flow because you will gain credibility. We are selling attention and service here."
He added, "This is not rocket science. We are out hustling and working as hard as we can to develop customers."