BankAmerica Corp.'s private bank is going after New York's nouveaux riches.
No longer content to limit its ambitions to the city's old money, the San Francisco banking giant plans to mine its New York corporate client list for private banking business. And rather than just offer these well- heeled executives high-end loans, BankAmerica plans to pitch trust and asset management products as well.
The New York office is adopting a model used by Bank of America Illinois, which has long approached wealthy individuals who have a professional relationship with the bank. Indeed, the Big Apple effort is being led by Christian LeBris, a veteran of Continental Bank Corp., the Chicago-based bank BankAmerica bought several years ago.
"We are working off the corporate bank and its relationships because it is the strongest source of referrals," said Mr. LeBris, who is now senior vice president in charge of private banking in New York. Mr. LeBris, a former corporate lender, is setting up a referral system to turn executives or principals of companies working with the bank into private clients.
In New York, BankAmerica has a corporate lending group with 175 people. Combined, approximately 1,700 BankAmerica employees work in the city, in departments including global capital markets, securities underwriting, corporate real estate, cash management, merchant services, and business credit.
The goal of turning these employees' customers into private banking clients comes as a plethora of institutions, including other newcomers, ramp up their efforts to attract New Yorkers to their asset management and trust services groups.
For example, PaineWebber Inc. now refers its most affluent clients to private bankers from Comerica Inc., who recently set up shop in Manhattan. And, Bank of Boston Corp. has moved into Westchester County, a well-to-do suburban area north of the city.
But some say BankAmerica's private bankers have a leg up on the competition.
"They are playing off an established clientele, so they are not new boys on the block," said David Ross Palmer, a private banking consultant.
The team of 11 private bankers working for Mr. LeBris will continue to provide credit for personal loans, mortgages, private equity or acquisitions within family businesses. But they are also adding an array of investment management products and trust and estate administration activities to their offerings.
Mr. Palmer said for BankAmerica to successfully sell trust and investment management services in the Big Apple, it must move professionals with those capabilities to New York or be "at a competitive disadvantage."
The wealth market in New York continues to grow at a rate that is twice the national average. In 1995, there were 133,000 millionaire households in the city, a 32% increase from the year before.
Mr. LeBris concedes he is up against the true titans of private banking: New York's own banks and venerable trust companies. He said it's a given that whenever a BankAmerica private banker approaches a corporate client, the prospect will ask why the out-of-towner can do better than the homegrown institutions like Chase Manhattan Corp., Bessemer Trust Co., U.S. Trust Corp. or Bank of New York Co.
"Those kind of questions are going to come up all the time," Mr. LeBris said. "But when they decide to go with us it's because they perceive a quality and intensity of service they have not gotten elsewhere, even from New York banks," he added.