Though other regional banks look to fee-based businesses to augment traditional lending and deposit-taking, Wilmington Trust Corp. is moving in the opposite direction.
Already possessing an enviable base of fee income from its trust and asset management operations, the $6.2 billion-asset company is expanding its retail and commercial lending businesses.
At the center of this counterintuitive program is an aggressive cross- selling campaign.
"We really excel because we provide a great deal of ability and creativity on the credit side," said Wilmington's chairman, Ted T. Cecala.
"We can follow that with our private banking and personal trust as well as asset management," he added. "We provide a complete package for privately owned businesses."
Wilmington's three core businesses-commercial banking, corporate trust, and wealth management-are intertwined whenever possible, Mr. Cecala said. He said, for example, that many of the bank's corporate customers also have trusts administered by Wilmington.
The company manages $20.5 billion of assets and administers an additional $100.5 billion for private and institutional clients.
Wilmington, founded under another name in 1901 to oversee Dupont family money, has long been involved in corporate, personal, and institutional trusts. That involvement gives the bank a leg up in cross-sales, according to Wayne Lewis-Hutchinson, director of mergers and acquisitions at Spectrem Group, San Francisco.
"The relationship guys are in one fell swoop talking to a corporate client about lending and business trusts," he said.
In its home state of Delaware, Wilmington is the last bank in its category to survive. Bank of Delaware, a $1.9 billion-asset institution, was bought by PNC Bank Corp. in 1989, and Delaware Trust Co., which had $1.15 billion of assets, went to Meridian Bancorp, now part of First Union Corp., in 1988.
But the arrival of the superregionals did bring some advantages to Wilmington, particularly the chance to promote itself as the hometown bank offering personalized service.
"Because they are still somewhat smaller than bigger guys they can bring a more heightened level of personal service in corporate as well as personal areas," said Cassandra Toroian, an analyst at Ryan, Beck & Co., Livingston, N.J.
The lending business in particular benefits from this high-touch approach.
"They are the best I've ever worked with. They're very relationship- oriented, which is different than other, larger banks that are operating today," said Peter A. Horty Jr., who co-owns an accounting firm that often makes referrals to the bank. "I have no problem whatsoever sending business over there."
Wilmington's effort to win commercial customers has paid off. More than half its $5.2 billion portfolio is in business credits and commercial mortgages.
"Over the last 10 years they became the premier business bank in the region," said Anthony J. Polini, an analyst at Advest Inc. Because of its appeal as the biggest independent bank left in the state, Mr. Polini said, "it would be difficult for a larger regional to get an edge on Wilmington.".
However, the company does face stiff competition from smaller, community-oriented banks based in southern New Jersey, such as Commerce Bancorp of Cherry Hill and Sun Bancorp of Vineland.
Commerce may open as many as three branches in Delaware next year and more than 12 in the next five years. The $4.6 billion-asset banking company recently expanded its access to the state's small-business market with its purchase of J.A. Montgomery, Delaware's largest insurance broker.
Meanwhile, the $1.3 billion-asset Sun is set to buy eight Delaware branches this month from Household International Inc.'s Beneficial National Bank.
"We will be more aggressive from a lending standpoint than Beneficial," said Robert F. Mack, Sun's executive vice president and chief financial officer. "Obviously we think Wilmington Trust is a competitor, and once Commerce gets into the mix, they're always strong competition."
But Wilmington is not sitting still, Mr. Cecala said. Though it claims to control half of Delaware's retail and business banking markets, it has also expanded into southeastern Pennsylvania and parts of Maryland, including the prosperous Eastern Shore.
The bank is also moving its private banking and trust business into other markets. It opened a personal trust office in New York last August as part of its stake in the investment firm Cramer, Rosenthal McGlynn Inc.
This month, Wilmington's first California personal trust office is to be opened in Santa Monica, where the bank recently bought a majority interest in the investment firm Roxbury Capital Management. Wilmington also has wealthy customers in Florida and Texas.
At home in Delaware, Wilmington is active politically and professionally, further cementing its ties to the business community. The bank has helped write and pass business-friendly legislation, and Mr. Cecala is chairman of the state Chamber of Commerce.
Wilmington plans to move its stock listing from Nasdaq to the New York Stock Exchange next month, but it is not trying to boost its profile to attract a buyer, Mr. Cecala said. The changeover is intended simply to bolster its stock price.
"We believe in our independence and are going to continue to pursue it," he said. "In fact, being on the New York Stock Exchange will probably add to our valuation."