FleetBoston Financial Corp., which is looking for a stronger foothold in the East Coast's emerging-wealth market, is overhauling its private-client services group to offer a team-based approach to asset management.
Next month, Fleet said, it will begin offering clients with at least $1 million of investable assets access to a team of professionals to help them manage their money. The teams will be led by relationship managers who will work one-on-one with customers. The teams will include wealth (or asset) strategists, credentialed financial planners, and specialists on topics such as taxes, estate planning, and charitable giving.
Marc A. White, who was hired in March from Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. to head the Fleet private-client group, said the team approach will let Fleet separate itself from banking companies that still use "the old trust model of wealth management" for their private banking clients.
Under the trust model, which the Fleet group had previously used, relationship managers got input from other financial professionals in the trust department but retained the bulk of the client advisory authority.
Fleet's new model is intended to give team members much stronger voices in the advisory process, which itself will be more structured, Mr. White said. The relationship manager will still be in charge of the one-to-one relationship, but advice on how best to use the client's assets will come with substantially more input from the team members, he said.
"This approach allows us to focus on ideas rather than just pushing Fleet products and services," Mr. White said. "Wealthy individuals want answers, not products."
He said he plans to use this approach in all of Fleet's private banking offices, which are spread from Maine to Florida, and will hire several relationship managers, strategists, advisers, and specialists.
Analysts say this approach may be new to Fleet but is nothing fresh in private banking.
Nancy A. Bush, an analyst at Ryan, Beck & Co., said most large banking companies with good reputations in wealth management, such as SunTrust Banks Inc. and Northern Trust Corp., already use a team approach.
Fleet's success in luring private banking clients will depend on the quality, not the quantity, of the advisers assigned to an account, she said. "If I am a wealthy person, I don't care if a team of people or one person is managing my money," she added. "Private clients want good advice, and they want results."
Gary Peacock Jr., a spokesman for SunTrust, said the Atlanta company's private-client services division has always used a team approach to wealth management. To succeed with this approach, companies need strong relationship managers who can use the expertise of their teams while staying committed to their clients, he said.
"Relationship managers need to own the relationship with the customer," Mr. Peacock said. "They have to be the point person, the one the customer trusts. The wealthy have too much invested to be lost in a team of people."
Mr. White, who has 22 years of experience in managing assets for wealthy New England clients, said Fleet's new approach, along with the company's recent asset management acquisitions, will let the private-client group strengthen its market position on the East Coast.
"A large number of wealthy individuals know of Fleet," he said. "Our size and our presence give us an advantage in many markets. But we can't rest on that."
At the end of the first quarter Fleet had $125 billion of assets under management, $50 billion of which was managed by its private-client group. Its average private banking customer has $3 million of assets under management at Fleet.