SEI Investments Inc. is developing its first separate account product specifically for banks and plans to launch it by yearend.
Robert Crudup, the executive vice president of investment systems and services at the Oaks, Pa., asset management and technology company, said the new product will be a modification of SEIs separate account product for advisers, with back-office and record keeping technology specifically designed for banks.
There are subtle differences in how you deliver it to banks, mainly in operations, he said.
SEI will also have a full-time tax adviser to work with bank brokers on helping customers handle the tax consequences of moving their assets into the new product.
Wealthy customers are generally averse to changing managers of their separate accounts even if they are unhappy with the managers performance because to do so they usually must sell stocks and incur capital gains taxes, Mr. Crudup said.
Robert Prucnal, a senior vice president of asset management at SEI, said the separate account will require a minimum investment of $250,000. The companys mutual fund wrap program for banks, which was introduced in February, has a $50,000 minimum.
Separate accounts operate much as mutual funds do in that they invest in a portfolio of stocks and have stated strategies. However, unlike mutual funds, separate accounts are held by a single investor rather than a group of shareholders.
Wealthy investors are increasingly demanding these accounts because of the more personalized service and improved tax efficiency they offer, Mr. Prucnal said. High-net-worth individuals believe they deserve more than mutual funds, he said.
Mr. Crudup said he believes the new product will help banks do something they must attract and retain their most affluent customers investments.
A number of other brokers, advisers, and fund companies already sell separate accounts through banks. Houstons Aim Investment Management, one of the largest sellers of mutual funds through banks, offers separate accounts with an investment minimum of $100,000.
Some Web-based companies are also in the business. Companies like FundQuest Inc. of Boston and Separate Account Solutions Inc. of Carmel, Calif., offer separate accounts with $100,000 minimums.
Bradley Moore, an equity analyst at Putnam Lovell Securities Inc. in San Francisco, said many bank trusts use SEIs back-office technology, so the companys credibility with banks should help it sell separate accounts.
Chris Davis, the executive vice president of the separate account trade group at the Money Management Institute in Washington, said the fact that SEI already has relationships with banks is important because, though some banking companies already offer separate accounts KeyCorp, Wells Fargo & Co., and First Union Corp. among them most have made little headway in selling them.
Banks hold less than 1% of separate account assets, according to a recent study by the Boston research firm Cerulli Associates.
Some banks are reluctant to sell separate accounts because their account managers and clients are conservative when it comes to new products. Moreover, Mr. Davis said, the managers are so accustomed to transactional relationships that they do not know how to sell products that require deeper relationships with their customers.
With the exception of the San Francisco-based Wells, which Mr. Davis said has gotten the hang of selling separate accounts, most banks are essentially missing a chromosome on this.
However, Mr. Prucnal said, a new breed of banker is surfacing that recognizes the need to offer these products.
Mr. Crudup said that SEIs experience in selling mutual fund wrap programs to banks will help it sell separate accounts as well. The companys bank clients had sold close to $200 million of mutual fund wraps by the end of the second quarter, said Mr. Crudup, who hopes to maintain that pace in the second half.
Almost all the banks that use SEIs mutual fund wrap programs are regional and community banks, since most large banks already offer their own, he said.