James M. Dillon has no compunction about calling himself a former "whiz kid" of banking. When he was just 34, he fondly recalls, he was running the trust department of Marine Midland Bank in his hometown of Buffalo.

Today Mr. Dillon, 58, is something of an elder statesman. He has seven children, three grandchildren, and a sterling reputation developed over many years in the realm of banking for the wealthy.

Now he's trying to convert silver to gold. As the new head of marketing for Swiss Bank Corp.'s U.S. investment group, he has settled into what he considers the ultimate private banking outpost.

The Highest Peak

"Only when Swiss Bank came calling did I say, this is it." Mr. Dillon said.

"You don't get any higher than the people who invented private banking."

Mr. Dillon says there is a strong market for the bank's services.

Despite its $153 billion in worldwide assets, however, Swiss Bank is not guaranteed success in the highly competitive U.S. private banking market.

In May it lost its coveted triple-A rating from Moody's Investors Service Inc., robbing it of a key marketing tool.

Mr. Dillon, who joined Swiss Bank in late April, faces such challenges with the sangfroid of an old-time gnome.

"I think it will be a non-event," he said of the Moody's downgrade.

Asked whether the private banking division has any exposure to Olympia & York, a major Swiss Bank client, he was equally cool. "Confidentiality is one of the key items with wealthy individuals," he said.

Despite the crowded market and the twist in Swiss Bank's fortunes, Mr. Dillon says there is a strong market for the bank's services.

"There are still plenty of wealthy individuals who aren't using investment management services at all," he said.

Stint at Bankers Trust

Before moving to Swiss Bank, Mr. Dillon was senior vice president in Bankers Trust Co.'s private banking division. He was in charge of fiduciary and investment management in New York City, New York's Westchester County, and nearby Fairfield County, Conn.

Before that, he headed the trust division at Fleet National Bank. He started his career at Merrill Lynch & Co. in Buffalo before beginning a 16-year stint at Marine Midland.

"He's a very fine trust officer," said Barry Sloane, who worked for Mr. Dillon at Bankers Trust and now runs private client marketing at J.&W. Seligman & Co. "Clients feel very much at ease with him."

At Swiss Bank, he reports to Edgar G. Schobel, the senior vice president in charge of U.S. private banking operations.

Eye on Expansion

Swiss Bank began its push into the U.S. private banking market in the late 1980s, focusing on New York, California, and Miami. It has since expanded into Chicago, and is now eyeing outposts in Texas and other parts of Florida.

Mr. Dillon said he hopes to help Swiss Bank expand into trust and estate management - it has trust powers but has not exercised them - and increase its jumbo mortgage lending.

He also looks forward to setting up Swiss Bank's first domestic mutual fund family. The bank is waiting for approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission to launch the funds.

Also high on his priority list is creation of a new product that combines features of demand deposit accounts, credit lines, and asset management.

The account, which will have multicurrency capabilities, would mirror Fleet's Westminister products, which Mr. Dillon helped launch, and serve as a magnet for new accounts.

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