Wachovia Corp. is quietly emerging as a wealth-management powerhouse.

The Winston-Salem, N.C., banking company has captured 3% of the investment assets of some of the richest people in the country, according to a survey taken last year. It also ranked No. 7 among institutions named by millionaires who were asked where they place the largest proportion of their investable assets. Wachovia was the only commercial banking company among the top 10.

"It's surprising that Wachovia made it to the top 10," said John J. DeMarco, senior vice president of PSI Global, the Tampa-based research firm that conducted the survey. "Most banks don't cover the entire country, while Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney do."

Wachovia, which manages $12 billion of assets for private clients, operates primarily in the Southeast.

PSI Global last year conducted a national poll of 2,600 people with more than $1 million of investable assets. While the study's sample is a scant percentage of the 2.5 million such households in the U.S., the survey is still considered statistically significant. Wachovia's ranking may have been helped by its location. The bank serves wealthy clients in some posh resorts nearby, such as Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Bald Head Island, N.C.

Last year, Wachovia tripled new investment fee income in its private client area. In October, the bank completed a pilot that changed the way it serves the wealthy.

A new group of teams, dubbed Private Financial Advisors, is making financial planning the linchpin of sales. So far, 30 Wachovia advisers are enrolled in the American College of Financial Planning in Denver. The group hired 17 new advisers last year.

The newest teams are being deployed in Boca Raton and Palm Beach, Fla.- markets Wachovia entered by acquiring First United Bank. Its acquisitions of Central Fidelity Banks Inc. and Jefferson Bankshares in Virginia have led teams into affluent communities in that state.

"We've really pushed this strategy out to the market to move investment advisers into local markets," said W. Robert Newell, manager of Wachovia's Private Financial Advisors.

Teams of specialists have become increasingly common among banks and brokers.

"The main thing that would differentiate (Wachovia) is its compensation structure, which is designed to encourage the relationship manager to make sure cross-sells happen," said Kenneth Kehrer, a consultant in Princeton, N.J..

At Wachovia, all team members-150 financial advisers, 25 investment managers, 25 estate planners, and four insurance experts-are salaried and only get their bonuses if the team makes its sales goal.

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