Dime Savings Bank of New York is planning to offer trust services by the end of this year to clients with about $150,000 of assets.
In doing so, it is targeting New Yorkers long neglected by trust managers.
The city is home to many stalwarts of the traditionally upscale trust business. Among them: Bank of New York Co., Chase Manhattan Corp., Fiduciary Trust Company International, J.P. Morgan & Co., and U.S. Trust Corp., which market themselves as corporate fiduciaries for people with seven-figure trusts.
Administering trusts for millionaires is costly because it often involves careful husbanding of complicated assets, such as art collections or commercial real estate holdings. Trustees may also get caught between sparring-and occasionally litigating-family members. With all that on their hands, most banks are not interested in small trusts.
"Trust services for the emerging affluent are not available," said J. Edward Diamond, president of Dime Securities Inc. "Go into most banks, and trust is truly daunting, with the high minimums."
Dime Savings, a federally chartered thrift with $20 billion of assets and 90 offices, inherited trust powers from a predecessor institution, Anchor Savings Bank, which had not used the authority.
"'Private banking' is a loaded phrase," Mr. Diamond said. "It has a connotation of oriental rugs and $3 million minimums. That's not what we're doing at all."
Private banking itself is a new thrust for Dime, where it is an amalgam of banking and investments for customers with household incomes greater than $75,000. Estate plans are likely to be a big concern for many of Dime's 750,000 customers, whose average age is 51.
Dime has $2.6 billion under management.
In a snappy, award-winning television advertising campaign, Dime has portrayed itself as a capable financial services company that is friendly with New York's retail market.
People in the region with smaller estates do not normally go to banks for trust services, according to Howard Sharfstein, a partner in the trust and estate practice of Schulte, Roth & Zabel, a New York law firm. He said upper-middle-class people usually name individuals as trustees, including family members, friends, or attorneys who may or may not be skilled at investment management, record keeping, and tax-filing obligations.
"You weigh one, the informality of an individual appointment, against the other, the formality of a corporate appointment. But it does come at a cost," he said.
Managing a trust for a client with less than $1 million of assets is simpler and consequently not as costly, according to James A. Phillips, president of Trust Resource Co., Portland, Conn.
Dime plans on using a third party for trust accounting and investing client assets in mutual funds.
"There probably is a market for a corporate fiduciary for the smaller trusts if they can price it right," Mr. Sharfstein added.