The former chief investment officer for J.P. Morgan & Co.'s global bank has come out of semi-retirement to help U.S. Bancorp's investment arm battle for very wealthy clients in Minneapolis.
Jean L.P. Brunel, who retired from J.P. Morgan in 1998, comes to the Minneapolis banking company as a senior vice president and director of its high-net-worth group after being a consultant to its First American Asset Management unit.
"I was very excited about this initiative to enhance, revitalize, and expand the services offered to First American's high-net-worth investors," Mr. Brunel said. "A lot of banks and investment companies are shy about making these kind of changes. This is a unique opportunity that I couldn't let pass."
Mr. Brunel, who worked at Morgan for 24 years, said he hopes to feed on that experience to bring sophisticated investment management advice to First American's individual investors. The effort will entail a significant buildup in staff, service enhancements such as investment and estate planning, and marketing a broader array of financial products.
"This is evolution, not revolution, but we also want to go beyond the products that are on our shelves," Mr. Brunel said. "These are savvy investors, and the bank will need to offer them a wide range of products, and that will mean opening access to non-U.S. Bancorp products."
Currently U.S. Bancorp has $28 billion of assets under management for high-net-worth investors. He aims to increase that by 15% to 20% annually for the next five years. First American and U.S. Bancorp have 72 high-net-worth portfolio managers in 19 offices nationally. He plans to build the work force to 100 during the next two years.
In the 18 months he consulted for First American and U.S. Bancorp, Mr. Brunel said it became clear that individualized attention was a necessity for the high-net-worth group to continue to grow.
This begins with catering to the bank's very high-net-worth investors - those with more than $20 million of assets - a group that is often forced to go to out-of-state for advisory services, Mr. Brunel said.
"There are a lot of affluent individuals and affluent families in the Minneapolis area," Mr. Brunel said. "It is a high priority to target them and make sure they receive the attention they deserve."
Analysts said Mr. Brunel will have to offer something special to retain clients in what is becoming a hotly contested market.
"When you look at bank competitors, U.S. Bancorp may be alone, but when you take a broader look you realize that there are brokers, investment bankers, and trust banks that are going after the same market share,'' said Diana Yates, an analyst at St. Louis' A.G. Edwards.
She said U.S. Bancorp will find competition in the Minneapolis area from Merrill Lynch, A.G. Edwards, and Wells Fargo, among others.
Still U.S. Bancorp, the former First Bank System Inc. of Minneapolis, may now reap some benefits from its decision to keep the company's headquarters in Minneapolis after the purchase of Oregon's U.S. Bancorp in 1997. Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis, by contrast, not only took the Wells Fargo name when it bought the San Francisco banking company in 1998 but also moved its headquarters to California.
"The fact that U.S. Bancorp is headquartered here and Wells Fargo and others are not is a factor here," said Ben Crabtree, an analyst at George K. Baum and Co. of Kansas City, Mo. "This is probably not an issue to big corporations or to mass market consumers," he said, "but for small businesses and high-net-worth investors, it is a legitimate consideration.
"High-net-worth investors like the idea of a local bank. They want to know that their account is not going to be transferred to San Francisco or something like that," Mr. Crabtree said.
Mr. Brunel is a chartered financial analyst. Before being named chief investment officer at J.P. Morgan in 1990, he was an analyst in New York and Tokyo, head of research in Hong Kong, and head of investment management in Singapore and Melbourne. Since 1998 he has been a consultant for high-net-worth families and asset management companies like First American.
But his experience as a chief investment officer makes him an asset at First American.
"Jean brings a profound understanding of the needs of our high-net-worth clients, and he is a strong and resourceful leader," said Thomas Plumb, First American's chief executive officer. "Jean has had a tremendous impact already with the services we provide to our high-net-worth clients. We are fortunate to have him."
Mr. Brunel said he had not planned to return to the executive ranks of a major financial corporation but now that he is back he knows that this is where he belongs. "This was really a unique opportunity and an opportunity I never expected," Mr. Brunel said. "I didn't expect a chance to be back on the inside again, but it is great to be hands-on again."