The asset manager Scudder Kemper Investments and the investment banking firm Thomas Weisel Partners are joining forces on a venture that will usher them both into private client wealth management.
In contrast to the person-to-person approach customary in private client businesses, Scudder Weisel Capital will operate almost completely online. A Scudder spokeswoman confirmed that the venture is being launched, but she would give no details.
Long the province of banking companies, the fast-growing niche has attracted a wave of entrants in recent months. Goldman, Sachs Group moved in when it hired Daniel Fitzpatrick, formerly of J.P. Morgan & Co., to run its personal trust area. Charles Schwab & Co. became an overnight power in the segment with its agreement in January to buy U.S. Trust Corp.
Scudder Weisel will be headquartered in San Francisco, where the technology boom has created a generation of wealthy investors. Several banks, including Morgan, have opened offices in the area to capture new, younger clients for their high-end banking business lines.
The partners bring complementary strengths to the venture. Weisel bills itself as a big player in private placement - particularly in technology - and Scudder may want to offer such deals to wealthy clients, said Robert Tetenbaum, co-founder and executive vice president of First Manhattan Consulting Group.
News of the venture was first reported in the newsletter Fund Marketing Alert.
Some industry executives said Scudder Weisel may have to limit itself at first to younger prospects, given its intention to concentrate on the Web. If it succeeds, it will probably do so by targeting investors such as new dot-com millionaires, who may not have a lot of liquid cash, one observer said.
For now, few expect that older wealthy investors - who tend to value the personal touch in private banking - will be attracted to online asset management.
But over time, said Art Bender, an e-commerce analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in San Francisco, business lines like wealth management, which do not require much in the way of physical product delivery, could move online as more people become comfortable with the Internet.
Many investment firms are going online because wealthy investors are demanding Web service, said Kurt Reisenberg, managing director at VIP Forum in Washington. Meanwhile, he said, competition for high-net-worth customers has intensified, with brokerages and mutual fund companies benefiting from the bull market.
Ultimately, even if the Internet becomes the preferred vehicle for many clients of wealth management services, affluent investors will probably demand some services that online-only operations do not offer, said Chris Musto of Gomez Advisors in Lincoln, Mass. Online capacities allow for automated advice, but many of these newly wealthy will still want some personal attention, he said.
"There's still a question of how much human contact is necessary," Mr. Musto said.