Thrifts may be viewed as lightweights in the wealth management business, but one savings bank wants to change that perception.

Dime Savings Bank of New York will launch a private-label asset allocation product early in 1996 to entice clients with at least $100,000 to invest.

The $20 billion-asset thrift is adopting a wrap account program called the Investment Advisory Account. SEI Corp. will provide the investment management advice.

SEI originally designed the wrap account for sale through trust departments. Dime is the first thrift to use the program.

Currently, 60 banks around the country employ the seven-year-old SEI Asset Allocation Program in their trust departments.

But unlike those institutions, Dime - which lacks a trust charter - wants to offer the wrap program through its brokerage, Dime Securities Inc.

"It's a new tool to reach the high-end market," said J. Edward Diamond, president of Dime Securities. "This is not the first wrap account we've done, but it has a higher minimum and a more sophisticated model."

This particular wrap account typically commands minimums in the $500,000 range, but Dime wants to bring it down to customers with $100,000.

"There's an audience out there on the retail side. Traditionally it's been a trust product, and only wealthy customers had access to it," said Steven S. Kramer, a managing director of SEI Investment Group.

Thrifts are not generally known for targeting even the emerging affluent, but one consultant is not surprised that Dime is the exception to the rule.

"If it were 'Brooklyn Five Cents Savings,' then I'd wonder," said David Ross Palmer, a New York private banking consultant.

Mr. Palmer added that the savings bank has a pervasive presence in New York, thanks to "a creative marketing head, a good client base, and good standing as a thrift in the marketplace."

Dime plans to start marketing the wrap program to existing clients and later expand the campaign outside the thrift, said David J. Totaro, the thrift's senior vice president and chief of marketing.

The closing of Dime's merger with Anchor Savings Bank doubled its client base to 750,000 households and boosted its ability to target the wealthy.

"The Anchor customer base was slightly more upscale than the Dime base was," Mr. Totaro said, adding that "the Dime is slightly more upscale than the general marketplace."

Meanwhile, The SEI asset allocation vehicle could spur Dime to create a trust unit.

"The SEI program has a full trust component that can go with it, so if we do expand into the trust market, then we already have that relationship," Mr. Diamond said.

"We're only in the phase of thinking of putting (a trust department) together," he added.

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