FleetBoston Financial said it will consolidate its four brokerages this summer and install software to let brokers give more personalized service to targeted investors - the so-called near rich.
About 220 brokers who work for other FleetBoston units will be added to the 550 at its Quick & Reilly unit in August and September, said Paul Saita, head of national sales at Quick & Reilly. The brokers are being trained to use software developed by Siebel Systems of San Mateo, Calif., that will enable them to access detailed data on clients' trading histories instantly, helping them respond to specific needs.
The consolidation will close "one of the last great areas [Fleet] had to fix," said Katrina Blecher, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York. Until now, the firm's brokerages had different management styles, and cross-selling efforts were "not impressive," Ms. Blecher said. The consolidation will also help to reduce overhead costs, she said. Brown Brothers currently has a "short-term buy" position on FleetBoston stock.
The steps are key to FleetBoston's strategy of targeting the near-rich - a growing group of investors whose net worth has been considered too small to qualify for private client treatment.
Thomas Quick, president and chief operating officer, has said access to the research and expertise of FleetBoston's Private Client Group would prevent clients from moving to firms that offer either deeper discounts on trades or more-comprehensive investment advice.
Quick generally targets people with $100,000 or more in investable assets, but it is looking to lower that threshold to capture others whose assets are likely to grow. At present, the average Quick investor has $200,000 in investable assets, makes $81,000 per year, and is 53 years old.
In early August, Quick & Reilly will begin integrating FleetBoston's other brokers into its own sales force, a process it expects to complete by early September, said Mr. Saita.
The brokers are with three bank brokerage houses acquired in the past decade. Fleet acquired what is now Fleet Enterprises Inc., which has 70 brokers, with the purchase of a U.S. subsidiary of National Westminster Bank in 1996.
Thirty brokers will move over from Bank Boston Investment Services, which came from the merger of Fleet Financial Group with Bank of Boston last year.
Another 120 are coming from Fleet Investment Services, which is an amalgamation of broker-dealers that had been parts of Shawmut National Corp. and Connecticut National Bank. Shawmut bought Connecticut National Bank in 1988, and Fleet bought Shawmut in 1996.
In addition, FleetBoston's brokers have passed the National Association of Securities Dealers series 7 exam, authorizing them to sell bonds, stocks, or options. Many FleetBoston representatives had been exclusively series 6 brokers, allowed to sell only annuities and mutual funds.
FleetBoston said a greater percentage of its customers bank online than customers of any other bank. Citing statistics by Faulkner & Gray, FleetBoston spokesman Charles Salmans said 19% of its customers do at least some banking online.
FleetBoston also has joined the ranks of financial service firms using the Internet to retain customers. Last week, the firm said it would provide free access to the World Wide Web to anyone holding an account.
Omaha, Neb.,-based Ameritrade also recently announced that it would open the Internet for free to anyone who held an account with the firm.
"Every client out there is looking for value," Mr. Salmans said. "This is a very competitive area."