While some money managers are using the Web to overhaul the way they serve wealthy clients, the private banking arm of Pittsburgh-based Mellon Financial Corp. is focusing on online communication.
Mellon Private Asset Management, which manages $56 billion and administers $37 billion of assets for customers who have at least $1 million to invest, will not offer online trading or Internet-based accounts.
When Mellon's private banking Web site becomes active on June 30, it will offer account access, a way to communicate with portfolio officers, and investment information such as educational materials and explanations of Mellon's investment decisions, said David F. Lamere, the unit's president.
Mr. Lamere conceded that the plan lacks drama. "We expect that there will be a very significant amount of our clients who, when we introduce our Web site, will yawn at us," he said.
Nonetheless he said he sees it as a way to improve communications with high-net worth clients. In times of market turmoil, for example, Mellon could organize a mass communication to clients.
The point, he said, is to use the Internet as a communication tool, not as a business model.
"What we want to do is not to force our clients to forget why they hired us, which is to help them establish their goals, help them with their asset allocation, and help them put a plan in place," Mr. Lamere said. "These are their long-term goals. We're not day traders," he said.
Some of Mellon's private banking competitors have been much more aggressive in their Internet initiatives. J.P. Morgan & Co. in New York started an online private bank in March. New York-based Bessemer Trust Co. recently struck a partnership with Jersey City-based DLJdirect Inc. to enable Bessemer's customers to trade online.
In many cases, such moves are an attempt to reach a broader base of rich, but not super-rich, clients, said Kurt J. Reisenberg, a managing director of VIP Forum, a Washington-based private banking consulting firm. That typically means the growing number of young, self-made millionaires, who tend to be more "self-directed" in their investing, he said.
Mr. Lamere said Mellon Private Asset Management has other plans for mining that client base.
Some tactics seem basic - matching clients and salespeople in the same age group, for example. Others are more substantive, such as building capabilities to handle stock options, restricted securities, and similar matters.
In addition, Mellon Private Asset Management is expanding its product line with alternative investments. In the past year, Mellon started a private equity fund, and Mr. Lamere said the unit is looking at offering hedge funds, most likely through a joint venture or acquisition.
Mr. Lamere said he is not worried about losing potential clients to flashy gimmicks. What is important, he said, is asset management capability. People are confident turning their life savings over to Mellon, he said.