Neuberger Berman, the 62-year old New York investment and advisory firm, is the latest nonbank to take on banking companies in the wealth management business.
On Tuesday, the company said it has gotten a national trust bank charter from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and opened Neuberger Berman National Trust Co. in Seattle. Neuberger said it also plans to open a trust office in Los Angeles this quarter.
Neuberger Berman, which manages $56 billion of assets, has for several years had state trust charters in Delaware, Florida, and New York, and it manages about $4 billion of personal trust assets in those states.
Setting up a national trust bank will let the company expand its wealth management business, said Heidi L. Schneider, who heads its private asset management group.
"With a state charter you're limited to the state in which the bank is chartered," she said. "Having a national charter is a relatively new thing, and it's a more effective way of running a trust company."
Neuberger seeks to compete with the trust operations of banking companies like Northern Trust Corp. of Chicago, as well as U.S. Trust Corp., the New York private banking company bought last year by Charles Schwab & Co., she said.
The company has hired a former private banker, Albert C. Bellas, to be chairman of the newly chartered trust bank. Mr. Bellas is to join the company next Tuesday from Offitbank in New York, where he was a managing director. He will also lead the boards of the state-chartered trust banks. Mr. Bellas was not available to comment Tuesday.
Neuberger has also appointed Daniel W. Jaech, a former executive at Laird Norton Trust Co. in Seattle, to oversee the Seattle and Los Angeles offices.
The race to manage individual wealth has intensified in recent years, thanks in part to opportunities presented by the accumulating assets of the baby boomer generation and the newly minted "emerging affluent" spawned by the now-faded bull market for technology stocks.
In 1999 the number of high-net-worth investors in the United States grew 17.4%, to 2.5 million, according to a wealth management study published last year by Merrill Lynch & Co. and Cap Gemini Group. Merrill defines high-net-worth investors as people with more than $1 million to invest.
Neuberger seeks to capture the assets of those with $2 million or more to invest, Ms. Schneider said. This would put the firm in competition with San Francisco-based Schwab's U.S. Trust division.
Ms. Schneider said the company's efforts to build its wealth management business are not entirely new. It recently announced the acquisition of Executive Monetary Management, a New York boutique that caters to wealthy families. The deal is expected to close this quarter.
Companies like Neuberger have an opportunity to succeed where banks have failed to capture the assets of high-net-worth people, said Richard Scheide, a trust consultant at Lobue Associates in Las Vegas.
"All these people deal with banks," said Mr. Scheide. "You would think that banks would have been able to sop this stuff up, but they haven't done a good job."
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 opened the door for nonbanks to get national trust bank charters.
Amvescap, the Atlanta fund management company, said it, too, got a national trust bank charter Tuesday. Amvescap, however, plans to focus on institutional trusts. Vanguard, the Valley Forge, Pa., fund company, has received approval to open Vanguard National Trust Co., and Goldman Sachs Group's application for a trust charter is pending with the OCC. Other nonbanks have used federal thrift charters to offer trust services.
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