Bryn Mawr Bank Corp. is looking to its charitable foundations practice to help build its new wealth management business.

Under Herbert T. McDevitt, senior vice president and head of Bryn Mawr's family office group, the 108-year-old bank has snapped up five charitable foundation clients, including the Firestone family. He said he plans to use those relationships to build the bank's ties to the ultra-wealthy.

"It's certainly a very important ingredient to working with the high- net-worth," Mr. McDevitt said. "You have to have someone on staff who has an extensive charitable foundations background."

Mr. McDevitt, a former manager of the Firestone family office and director of their foundations, joined Bryn Mawr to start its foundation practice in February. A $350 million-asset bank, Bryn Mawr manages about $1.5 billion of client assets.

Big banks, including Bankers Trust New York Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., First Union Corp., and PNC Bank Corp., have also been upgrading and emphasizing charitable foundation services.

The expansion of services provided by banks for charities follows the growing popularity of private foundations. There were 44,004 such foundations in the United States in 1993, the latest year statistics are available from the Internal Revenue Service. That was almost 1,600 more than the year before and up from 28,468 in 1982.

That surge may be attributed to the increasing number of younger entrepreneurs setting up their own foundations. These newly minted millionaires are hot prospects for Pennsylvania-based Bryn Mawr and other banks expanding their asset management businesses.

"They want to see it work for them at an earlier age," said Mr. McDevitt. "The old myth that you need $200 million or whatever has been eaten away over time."

Chase Manhattan has reassigned its former director of not-for-profit relations, Marlene Hess, to its private bank, where she advises clients on charitable giving and establishing foundations. Previously, no single executive at Chase was dedicated to that service because trust officers had helped clients with foundations when asked.

Similarly, First Union recruited Eileen M. Wilhelm last year to oversee its business with charities in the Northeast. Ms. Wilhelm held that position for First Fidelity Corp., which First Union acquired.

One fixture in an elaborate program at Bankers Trust, dubbed "Wealth with Responsibility," is a charities expert to whom the bank refers private clients. Peter Karoff, president of Philanthropic Initiative, a Boston- based consulting firm, helps people design their own foundations.

"We are committed to helping families use wealth productively, whether they are looking for investment performance or social results," said Peter K. Scaturro, a senior managing director at Bankers Trust. "We look at that as our job in terms of full-service private banking."

Bryn Mawr offers to help establish foundations and to assist with mission statements, guidelines, and policies. In addition to acting as custodian and investing foundation funds, Bryn Mawr reviews grant proposals, visits prospective grantees, and takes in mail and phone calls.

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