Wachovia Corp. said Thursday it had agreed to buy Offitbank Holdings Inc., a New York investment firm catering to the wealthy, for $200 million.
Offitbank, a state-chartered trust company managing $11 billion of assets, would retain its name and chief executive, Morris W. Offit, who is to become a director of the banking company.
Buying Offitbank puts Wachovia, which has dual headquarters in Winston- Salem, N.C., and Atlanta, on the map of extremely upscale private banking. It just completed the purchase of Interstate/Johnson Lane, a full-service brokerage.
"This is a very special situation because we formed a relationship with one of the greatest companies in wealth management, certainly in America and perhaps anywhere else," said L.M. "Bud" Baker Jr., chairman of Wachovia.
Offitbank has offices in New York and San Francisco. Mr. Baker said Wachovia would add new locations but declined to specify where. Offitbank serves private clients from 28 states as well as Latin America, Europe, and Asia. It also serves more than 100 institutional investors.
Each partner sees opportunities to leverage the other's core businesses.
"Because of Wachovia's strong corporate presence, we're known in many markets across the country," Mr. Baker said.
"Wachovia just broadens our base significantly," Mr. Offit said. Mr. Offit, 62, said he intends to stay on "at least 10 years."
The New York firm's client base is much wealthier than Wachovia's; 60% of Offitbank's clientele have $30 million or more invested. Wachovia's Private Financial Advisors is focused on people with less than $10 million to invest.
"There is a major potential for Wachovia Bank in the wealth management field because of the size of their retail base," said David Ross Palmer, a private banking consultant in East Falmouth, Mass.
"On one hand, there's potential for a major cultural clash between a fundamentally entrepreneurial, personality-driven organization-namely Offit himself-and a very traditional banking organization," he added.
Mr. Offit planned an initial public offering but scrapped the deal in October due to stock market volatility.
Mr. Baker and Mr. Offit said they were introduced by a mutual friend, H. Furlong Baldwin, the chairman of Mercantile Bankshares in Baltimore. Mr. Offit, known for emerging-market debt investing, is on the board of Mercantile.
The $200 million pricetag "looks reasonable" to Edward R. Najarian, an analyst at Wheat First Union in Richmond, Va.-especially considering that Wachovia earned $240 million in the first quarter alone. He added, though, that it is difficult to gauge the financial performance of Offitbank, a privately held company.
"Strategically, it appears like a good move. This is a company that wants to go further down the path of serving high-net-worth clients," he said. "This takes them to a higher level in that regard."
Wachovia manages $44 billion of assets. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter. Wachovia was advised by Credit Suisse First Boston, and Offitbank, by Merrill Lynch & Co.