After divesting a brokerage unit this month and selling a stake in a proprietary fund arm last year, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. does not plan to shed other units that are not carrying its brand, the Pittsburgh company's top wealth management executive said, but analysts are skeptical about how long that strategy will last.
"It is not part of our strategy to come up with one unified brand and divest everything else," said Michael Mortensen, the president of PNC Investments. "There are only a few companies that are under their own brand still, but we are very comfortable with that, and we are not looking to sell them."
Since the sale this month of the Louisville brokerage unit, J.J.B. Hilliard, W.L. Lyons Inc. to Houchens Industries Inc. of Bowling Green, Ky., the $131.4 billion-asset PNC has only two units that continue to use their own brands — the administration services provider PFPC Worldwide Inc. and an ultra-high-net-worth group, Hawthorn — and neither is on the block, Mr. Mortensen said.
But analysts said that PNC's interest in PFPC, like its investment in Hilliard Lyons and BlackRock Inc., could change.
"Over time, given the right opportunities, if PFPC is ever confronted with a situation where they need to make an enormous technology expenditure to remain competitive, that would be a catalyst for PNC to sell PFPC," said Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Capital Markets. "As long as PFPC can continue to deliver strong results without abnormally high expenditures, PNC will be very comfortable keeping it, but that could change."
Mr. Mortensen said that the sale of Hilliard Lyons and the sale of a hefty stake in BlackRock to Merrill Lynch & Co. were not about brand unification, but about improving and expanding the business units in PNC's traditional Middle Atlantic market. Hilliard Lyons has branches outside PNC's traditional territory, in states like Tennessee, Michigan, and Indiana.
PNC Investments sells its products and services through the parent's 1,100 bank branches, including a good number added in recent years through retail banking deals in the Middle Atlantic. Roughly 80% of its branches are in that region.
"We want to take the capital from this [Hilliard Lyons] sale and reinvest it in order to grow our customer base in our footprint," he said.
The strategy is part of one mapped out by James E. Rohr, PNC's chairman and chief executive. The company's strategy focuses on expanding four businesses: retail, corporate and institutional banking, global servicing through PFPC, and asset management through PNC's remaining 34% stake in BlackRock.
Mr. Mortensen said PNC Investments' expansion will come organically. "We plan to really spread the capital around to a variety of places," he said. "For PNC Investments, we want to train people to provide better advice. We want to upgrade our planning tools, improve management, and improve technology. Those are places we want to improve and get better."
PNC's bank acquisitions in the past two years offer plenty of new customers for cross-selling, Mr. Mortensen said. It bought Riggs National Corp. of Washington in 2005, Mercantile Bankshares Corp. of Baltimore in March, and Yardville National Bancorp of Hamilton, N.J., in October. It is also buying Sterling Financial Corp. of Lancaster, Pa.
About a year ago PNC merged BlackRock with Merrill Lynch Investment Management; that transaction, in which Merrill Lynch & Co. got a stake in BlackRock, gave PNC the capital to make banking deals.
Mr. Cassidy said the company's evolving strategy over the last 10 years has driven it to buy, and then sell, different business lines.
"PNC's senior management grew up in the commercial banking business," he said. "That is what they are most comfortable with, and so, as they sell off nontraditional businesses, they are going to use the excess capital and gains to buy more traditional banking franchises. I think that will continue to happen."
Mr. Mortensen said PNC Investments, which has $18.5 billion of assets under management, will cross-sell fee-based products and services to customers of the recently acquired banks. Currently 20% of PNC Investments' $135 million of revenue is generated from fee-based offerings.
"We want to provide broader advice through a suite of fee-based products," he said. Currently this suite includes a mutual fund wrap product and separately managed accounts. Mr. Mortensen said PNC Investments is considering offering unified managed accounts. One option is an account PFPC launched this year.
PNC Investments' revenue has increased 14% this year, Mr. Mortensen said. "We were in a position to let Hilliard Lyons go, and we still have a powerful momentum with our existing customers. There is just so much upside with existing customers, and with the banks we have acquired in the last few years, that we think that there are opportunities for PNC Investments to grow in the Mid-Atlantic region."
The unit's focus is to grow and "develop new customers in our footprint," he said. "Hilliard Lyons is outside of PNC's footprint. We want to redirect resources into our footprint in a way that will make us more effective in faster-growing markets."
In 1998, PNC bought Hilliard Lyons as part of an effort to expand its brokerage operations and move the unit's identity away from the bank's brand. In April 1999 many of PNC's brokerage offices took the Hilliard Lyons name.
But by 2002, Mr. Mortensen said, PNC realized the strategy was not going to work, so all brokerage branches in the Middle Atlantic market were rebranded as PNC Investments. After the name change 85 stand-alone offices with the Hilliard Lyons name remained in 13 states in the South and Midwest.
"We didn't see a lot of value in maintaining two brands in one footprint," he said. "In fact, we found it expensive and difficult, so we changed back."
PNC will continue providing clearing services to Hilliard Lyons, Mr. Mortensen said. "For us, there weren't any meaningful synergies beyond that. This really gives them the freedom to manage and grow their business."