NationsBank Corp. has opened a private-client office in suburban Philadelphia, providing fresh evidence of how hotly contested that market has become.

The representative office, which opened last Tuesday in Radnor, Pa., is the latest of several that the Charlotte, N.C., banking company has set up in major cities outside of its retail banking footprint.

Lenders in these offices, which have limited banking powers, refer affluent clients seeking investments and trust to colleagues in 70 full- service private-client group locations.

NationsBank named Drew Martini as market executive for the Philadelphia area. Mr. Martini moved there from NationsBank's Baltimore operation, which supports the Radnor office.

"It's very hard to go into a community where you don't have a major presence, but we're leveraging our name recognition throughout the wealth market," Mr. Martini said.

NationsBank, which manages $74 billion for wealthy individuals, has cracked into several markets beyond the 16 states and Washington, where it has branches. Among them: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco.

A location on Philadelphia's Main Line was the logical next step, Mr. Martini said. "Philadelphia has a rich heritage of very deep wealth that goes back many years. It's also a mecca for entrepreneurial individuals."

NationsBank is not the only newcomer. J.P. Morgan & Co., which established a representative office in the city in 1996, plans to have 30 private-client professionals there in January, including 15 people who currently cover the market from Delaware and New York.

Wilmington Trust Corp. is steadily expanding its reach from Delaware into southeastern Pennsylvania, where it is opening its sixth office this month in Villanova, a Main Line suburb.

Other banks, including Mellon Bank Corp. and PNC Bank Corp., have long catered to wealthy Philadelphians. And the private-banking landscape of Philadelphia, like that of many other cities, has been altered by mergers, most recently First Union Corp.'s takeover of CoreStates Financial Corp. Some independent players remain, such as Bryn Mawr Bank Corp., Glenmede Trust Co., and Pitcairn Trust Co.

Bryn Mawr Trust chairman Robert L. Stevens said a strong sense of pride in the region-even from one county to another-needs to be recognized when marketing to prospects.

"You'd probably want someone with local connections," Mr. Stevens said.

To that end, NationsBank recruited Christian Wagner as a relationship manager in Radnor. He returned to the area from a stint with Fisher Investments Inc. in Woodside, Calif. From 1992 until this year, he worked for CoreStates Asset Management.

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