Five months into her tenure at the helm of Chase Manhattan Corp.'s $167 billion global asset management business, Deborah L. Duncan has the future firmly in sight.
"I don't see any reason why over the next three years we can't be double the size we are," Ms. Duncan said in an interview in her corner office in midtown Manhattan. "There's a lot more we can do."
The 43-year-old executive vice president is laying the groundwork to achieve this growth-and though she is not ruling out acquisitions, she is not counting on them either.
"The highest priority," Ms. Duncan said, "is internal growth."
Chase is one of several large banks now assigning explicit, aggressive growth targets to their asset management businesses. But unlike many of its competitors, Chase is looking inside its own walls and seeking to leverage its global reach and varied business mix to gather assets.
Ms. Duncan's mission certainly has some high-level attention. Overseeing a staff of more than 600, she reports to Chase's president and chief operating officer, Thomas G. Labrecque, who led an influential, companywide task force on asset management last year.
Last year revenues from all trust- and investment-related businesses totaled $1.3 billion, or 15% of Chase's noninterest revenues, though an unspecified portion of that was for custody services-an area outside Ms. Duncan's bailiwick. Mutual funds accounted for $104 million.
Ms. Duncan, who was previously Chase's corporate treasurer, succeeded Arjun K. Mathrani as global asset management chief in January. Since then she has unveiled plans to launch a no-load mutual fund family later this summer and seized Mr. Mathrani's initiative to increase international distribution.
And there is more to come. A major goal, according to Ms. Duncan, is to get more mileage out of existing customer relationships by better integrating Chase's investment products businesses-"really pulling it together and looking at it as 'the company' as opposed to little pieces."
Chase is already making headway in its growth plan. But like most asset managers, it has had the wind at its back, thanks to the bull market.
Assets under management increased 35% for the 12 months ended March 31, in line with the 34.2% growth rate among the top 10 U.S. mutual fund companies, according to Financial Research Corp., Boston.
To hit its mark in three years, Chase would have to continue growing at about 26% annually. But such brisk growth might not be sustainable if the stock market loses momentum, said Ronald I. Mandle at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. An asset manager with a heavy equity weighting and "good cash flow" would be doing well with annual growth rates in the midteens, he said.
Still, he added, "with a good record and business development, it's possible."
Ms. Duncan has no doubt that Chase can pull it off. "We're poised at a really good time," she said. "Part of it comes to having a good product record. We have made inroads-we're taking this to the next level."
The $38 billion-asset Vista Funds will be a key to the growth strategy. The lineup includes several large equity funds with strong long-term track records. And the Vista Funds have been unusually successful in reaching nonbank investors, with 25% of sales of stock and bond portfolios coming from 1,600 unaffiliated broker-dealers around the country.
Just this week Chase unveiled its 73d mutual fund, the Vista Focus Fund. The name reflects its highly targeted strategy: it invests in stocks of only 25 companies selected for their capital appreciation potential.
Later this summer, Chase plans to augment the Vista Funds with the launch of a separate family of no-load mutual funds. This move would open Chase up to sales opportunities with self-directed investors.
Meanwhile the banking company is actively seeking ways to leverage its international reputation into a stronger presence as an investment manager overseas. Ms. Duncan said she is taking her case to Chase employees around the world; indeed, she was interviewed hours before leaving for a business trip to Singapore.
"We are already a global institution. We're well known. Adding asset management is a natural fit," she said.
International business is anything but foreign to Ms. Duncan. Respected inside and outside the bank, she joined the predecessor Chase in 1979 and spent a good portion of her career in treasurer positions in Asia. Ms. Duncan has also served as a co-head of global markets, responsible for worldwide trading activities.
For mutual fund sales outside the United States, Chase has linked up with other banks, including Direkt Anlage Bank in Germany and Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong. And from an offshore unit in Dublin, Vista offers mutual funds denominated in pounds sterling and German marks for foreign corporate clients with custody, sweep, cash management, and trust accounts.
Ms. Duncan said more sales should come down the road from abroad, in places like Brazil and Japan.
"We're very excited about the whole offshore part of the equation," Ms. Duncan said.
Since the 1995 merger with Chemical Banking Corp., domestic sales have come from introducing Chase clients to Chemical products and vice versa, Ms. Duncan said. For instance, investment management at Chase Bank of Texas, which has been limited to institutional clients aside from the global asset management division, will be marketed bankwide.
"Texas equity is growth-style, where we have in New York a value style. We now have a really neat product array," Ms. Duncan said.
Though merger and acquisition activity in the investment management business is hot, buying an asset manager is not on the front burner, Ms. Duncan said.
"There are always opportunities that one is looking at," she said. But prices "are high, and you have to be very comfortable that it's really going to work.
Chase has the potential to reach Ms. Duncan's goal without acquisition, an investment banker said. "Chase may feel comfortable-with pricing where it is and the impact on earnings-not to do it," said Bradford I. Hearsh, a managing director of PaineWebber Inc.
A groundswell of internal sales from different directions is needed to meet Ms. Duncan's plan for growth. Chase is getting more branch employees licensed to sell investments, but the big-ticket sales are driven by private and corporate bankers. And stirring up sales by these relationship managers is tricky; their rewards are based on a complete evaluation of the products are delivered to clients, not just those from the global asset management division, a spokeswoman said.
Other banks, including First Union Corp., Fleet Financial Group, and PNC Bank Corp., have succeeded in pitching corporate clients on investment products, observers said. But success is not guaranteed.
"Cross-selling strategy in a large bank tends to be easier said than done," said Norman R. Lubin, chief executive officer of FMS Consulting, Blue Bell, Pa. "Although it makes a great deal of sense from the perspective of the chairman or CEO, once it's attempted in the field, issues come up." The biggest problem boils down to how to compensate employees of different division for cross-selling.
Also, a bank's largest corporate lending clients can be difficult to win over as investment clients. "It's not a very easy sell. Banks are still viewed as second- to third-tier players in the market," said Adele L. Heller, director of BARRA RogersCasey, Darien, Conn.
Ms. Duncan said some corporate clients have been sold by their bankers into Chase investment portfolios.
"I think there's a lot more potential. That we think is a real growth opportunity and we're putting a lot of effort behind it," she said.