Employees at First Chicago Trust Co. never had such a view of New York City - until they began working in New Jersey.
Earlier this year, the company, a subsidiary of First Chicago Corp., moved its administrative and back-office operations from Manhattan's financial district to separate locations in New Jersey, one in Edison and another in Jersey City.
Those operations are substantial. First Chicago Trust Co. is the largest stock transfer agent in the country. Currently it handles all securities-related paperwork for over 450 companies, including International Business Machines Corp., American Telephone and Telegraph Co., and Philip Morris Cos., as well as a number of initial public offerings.
Before the move, First Chicago ran the operation from offices in lower Manhattan. That space was inherited when First Chicago purchased the business, formerly known as Morgan Shareholders Trust Co., from J.P. Morgan & Co. in June 1989.
Now the business occupies over 350,000 square feet in the two New Jersey locations, handling all client services and mail operations. A small number of employees remain in Manhattan.
According to Norman Jaffe, an analyst at Fox-Pitt, Kelton in New York, moving the operation to New Jersey gave First Chicago an opportunity to improve its operating margins and enhance its return on the business.
"The move gives them more of an ability to be competitive," Mr. Jaffe said. "It was a good way to increase profit margins and lower the overhead expenses in a business where fixed costs are a major component."
All First Chicago client service operations are handled from a tower in Newport Center, an office complex located on the western bank of the Hudson River. The mail operations are handled at an office park location in Edison.
"We handle all of the paper work that goes into buying, selling, and record keeping of stock certificates," said Andrew Lynch, president of First Chicago Trust.
Although Mr. Lynch acknowledged that New Jersey provided First Chicago with numerous enticements to make the move, he added that the relocation allowed the company to redesign its work flow and make its operation more efficient.
"The new offices have been designed to provide side-by-side departments that allow people to work and talk to each other," Mr. Lynch said. "In the other building the departments were scattered and there was a lot of time spent on interoffice mail. Now things flow much smoothly."
First Chicago currently has 1,300 full-time employees, adding 500 part-time staffers at various times of the year to handle the workload - which includes servicing the proxy and dividend materials for its roster of clients.
Of the total number of employees, 600 are customer service operators who exclusively gather information and answer questions about First Chicago's clients. Other employees include marketing representatives and account executives. There is also one team of people who respond to incoming mail regarding various companies.
"The staff can take care of whatever people call about," Mr. Lynch said. "Our busiest time is around dividend and proxy time, when we have to get out all the information and get it tabulated. We issue the certificates, pay the dividends, and keep the records, as well as answer questions."
First Chicago became the first tenant in the Newport Center tower, and as a result was able to equip its 240,000-square-foot space with the latest technology, including new workstations, mailing equipment, and telecommunications systems.
Mr. Lynch said some of the added telecommunications systems include a voice response system and a call management system, delivered over a fiber-optic backbone network throughout the building. In addition, the company is now directly linked to the corporate data center in Chicago.
Each of the individual workstations, which are connected by a local area network, also are equipped with dual data and phone lines, allowing expansion with the flick of a switch.
First Chicago also installed fully redundant electrical and data communications systems to provide live backup. The tower is equipped with generators to provide power in the event of a total outage.
The fact that First Chicago was one of the first tenants Newport Center also added to the attractiveness of the move, according to Mr. Lynch.
"We were able to do whatever we wanted," Mr. Lynch said. "We wired the building and ensured that the latest technology was installed in all phases of the operation."
Since acquiring the business, the number of shareholders the company services has doubled. "We provide a wide range of services for over 15 million shareholders," Mr. Lynch said. "A lot of record keeping, buying, and selling goes on in Edison."
According to Mr. Lynch, the company has been able to expand its menu of services as a result of its work with a number of insurance company clients. The work involves the "de-mutualization" of those companies, converting from ownership by the policyholders to stock ownership.
First Chicago coordinated the transfer of ownership.
"We handled the entire Equitable [Insurance Co.] de-mutualization, which consisted of a plan that issued stock to all of the policyholder's," Mr. Lynch said.
He sees the security services industry continuing to grow. Updating First Chicago's facilities, he said. will enable it to maintain its leadership position.
"As more companies get involved with giving employees direct stock purchase plans matching options, our job is increasing," he said. "Our facilities will allow us to stay on top of the industry."
A unique aspect of First Chicago's transfer business is the depository of stock certificates. First Chicago stores the certificates on behalf of shareholders once the paper is issued. The certificates are stored in huge vaults at the Newport Center site in Jersey City.
When it came time to close one vault and open another, three police forces and First Chicago's in-house security force supported the safe transport and deposit of the huge number of shares.
The Newport site contains two vaults. One is an "outer" vault that holds a small amount of working certificates for day-to-day operation, while the other, "inner" vault holds a large warehouse of certificates from all of First Chicago's clients.
"The new facilities illustrate the commitment that First Chicago has made to the securities services industry, with a special interest in the shareholder's side," said Mr. Lynch.