"Tempting" may not be the first word many people would use to describe New Jersey, but high-net-worth asset managers would say otherwise.
Wilmington Trust Corp., which opened an office in Morristown last week, is among the latest asset managers to enter the state in order to target its wealthy residents.
The Delaware-based company joined other companies that have trekked into New Jersey, such as FleetBoston Financial Corp., First Union Corp., PNC Financial Services Group Inc., Charles Schwab Corp.'s U.S. Trust Corp., and Bank of New York Co.
They are targeting the state for one simple reason: It is the nation's wealthiest.
New Jersey's median household income last year of $54,226 was the nation's highest and well ahead of the national median of $41,343. Moreover 21% of New Jersey's households earned at least $100,000, according to the 2000 Census.
New Jersey also has the seventh-highest number of households with a net worth of more than $1 million, according to a Spectrem Group study. (California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have more.)
But the state is not easy to categorize. It has a high concentration of wealthy people in a relatively small area. Also, most of the state is between New York and Philadelphia, so it often is grouped with those major metropolitan areas.
"New Jersey is really two metropolitan areas - Northern New Jersey gravitates around New York City and southern New Jersey around Philadelphia," said Raphael Soifer, an independent banking analyst in Ridgewood, N.J. "The big players in those markets tend to dominate New Jersey."
Rachel Weinberger, Wilmington Trust's senior private-client adviser and the head of its new Morristown office, said this is a part of New Jersey's attraction. "People who live in New Jersey and work in Philadelphia or New York don't want to have to go elsewhere with their money. They want local delivery," she said.
And Mr. Soifer said that to succeed in New Jersey, wealth managers must target its wealthy people as New Jersey residents rather than as citizens of the suburbs of New York or Philadelphia.
Wilmington Trust, which has $26.1 billion of assets under management, offers financial planning, portfolio management, and asset allocation tracking in the Morristown office. If needed, it can refer customers to the outside portfolio managers and financial planners with which the company has strategic alliances.
Ms. Weinberger said Morristown was chosen as Wilmington Trust's New Jersey base mainly because of its central location.
"There is no homegrown New Jersey financial institution," she said. "New Jersey needs more financial institutions focused on managing for the wealthy."
One institution that has succeeded in New Jersey, FleetBoston Financial Corp.'s private-client group, has done so because it did not bring a one-size-fits-all strategy to New Jersey but instead went local with its products and services.
"Historically, large New York banks that came to New Jersey have not been successful," said John Babcock, an executive vice president and regional market manager at Fleet. "Bank of New York, Chase, and Chemical all tried to apply a large-market philosophy and large-market delivery models, without getting into the communities or getting involved in the state."
In New Jersey, it is crucial to deal closely with middle-market business owners and offer a comprehensive set of personal financial services that includes estate planning, wealth management, tax advice, insurance planning, and charitable giving advice, Mr. Babcock said.
But because Fleet wants to attract high-net-worth individuals who own small businesses, it must offer business services as well, he said.
Since entering New Jersey in 1996, Fleet accumulated $1 billion of high-net-worth assets to manage in the state, excluding the $4.5 billion it gained from its purchase of Summit Bancorp of Princeton in March. The state now accounts for 10% of the $55 billion that Fleet manages for wealthy people nationwide.
First Union has taken a similar "local" approach to New Jersey wealth management. The Charlotte, N.C., company, which has been in the New Jersey market for 10 years, has 25 relationship managers in private capital management offices in Summit, Glen Rock, Red Bank, Toms River, Pennington, and Haddon.
John Manna, a managing director at First Union's office in Summit, said its local relationship managers take a comprehensive approach, offering financial planning, investment management, charitable giving, and trust services, as well as insurance products, lines of credit, and brokerage accounts.
Having offices in the state shows customers a local face, Mr. Manna said, so First Union is not perceived as an out-of-state interloper. (The company, which manages $49 billion of high-net-worth assets nationwide, does not break them out by state.)
However, Mr. Manna said he realizes that there are "a lot of opportunities" in New Jersey's pockets of wealth that "we need to capitalize on."
U.S. Trust, which has been in New Jersey since 1991, has successfully taken that tack.
Harry O'Mealia, the president of U.S. Trust Company of New Jersey, said wealthy areas exist in the north in Bergen County, in central Jersey in Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, and Union counties, and in the south around Camden County and in Haddonfield.
"It is hard to make generalizations about this state," Mr. O'Mealia said. "Tactics, products, and services that work in North Jersey might not be right for South Jersey. Each is a distinct market, and that is unusual for a smaller state."
U.S. Trust, which manages $2.5 billion of assets in New Jersey and $94 billion nationally, has wealth management offices in both Princeton and Morristown, and it is seeking to open offices at a few other sites, he said. "We need to be close to our customers. You cannot manage from afar."