Connecticut has the highest annual per capita income in the nation, at $39,167, but local banks have been virtually shut out of the financial advisory business by big firms headquartered in neighboring states.
Edward F. Fisher wants to change that.
The director of Webster Financial Advisors, a new unit of Webster Financial Corp. of Waterbury, hopes to tap local loyalty to build on the $888 million the banking company has under management through its estate planning and trust division, Webster Trust.
"We want to take a complete Connecticut focus," he said. "We know our clients and we know the market and we know the services that they need and that is the most important thing.
"In Connecticut there are very few banking alternatives. People can either go north to Boston or south to New York for financial advice," Mr. Fisher said. "There really hasn't been an in-state bank that has stood out that can handle Connecticut's high-net-worth population."
Mr. Fisher said Webster Financial Advisors will offer services such as 401(k) plans, insurance products through Webster Insurance, personal lending, upscale mortgage lending, and estate planning to investors with more than $400,000 of investable assets.
"We really want to expand what Webster Trust is doing in this market," Mr. Fisher said. "We know we have to grow our business in order to retain our clients. That means changing from product orientation to a relationship orientation."
The company has 60 financial advisers, all working for Webster Trust. Mr. Fisher said these advisers and the trust plans they handle will be integrated into Webster Financial Advisors.
He hopes to expand the advisory team to 75 within a year, Mr. Fisher said, and to double the assets under management within two years. Advisers will be based in Westport, Hartford, Kensington, New Haven, and Waterbury.
Les Dinkin, an analyst at NBW Consulting Group, a Westport, Conn., firm, said the decision to compete for Connecticut's high-net-worth investors is logical.
"This is really an extension of the business they are in and the clients they do business with," Mr. Dinkin said. "This will give Webster a larger share of the investment wallet and strengthen the bank's current relationships. But it may take some time before they can compete with other regional players."
Webster is not alone among Connecticut banks vying for the wealth management business, Mr. Dinkin said. People's Bank in Bridgeport has $13 billion of assets under management.
Mr. Fisher said Webster has put more emphasis on advising Connecticut's high-net-worth investors.
Debra McDonald, manager of external communications at People's Bank, said it manages $3 billion of assets for high-net-worth investors, but acknowledged it "does not have a single door that high-net-worth clients can walk in for advising services."
Ms. McDonald said People's has a trust and investment management department that is used by some high-net-worth clients and that a subsidiary, Olsen Mobeck of Rocky Hill, Conn., also handles high-net-worth clients.
Mr. Dinkin said Webster's in-state status will play to its advantage in competing with the likes of Merrill Lynch, FleetBoston Financial Corp., and Chase Manhattan Corp. but that local presence is not Webster's only edge.
"Webster has a large existing client base from its work with insurance and trust services, and that clearly provides a foundation for quickly expanding the business," he said. "By having that foundation, the next step is to keep customers and then go after Connecticut residents who do business with Fleet and other banks."
But David Ross Palmer, a high-net-worth analyst at Lobue Associates Inc. of Northbrook, Ill., said this would be difficult for Webster.
For a community bank to compete against giants from Boston and New York, he said, it must find a niche by offering unique products or an extremely high level of service.
A community bank that thinks it can compete just by being local and friendly, and building off existing relationships, "is not thinking correctly," Mr. Palmer said. "If you are a talking about the regular retail business, that is one thing. People do like the friendly, neighborly thing there, and the services are simpler to deliver. But as you go up the scale of wealth and financial sophistication, you must be able to step up to the plate with more."
Part of Webster's strategy has been a buildup in insurance. In 1998 it bought Dammon Insurance Associates of Westport. In February it bought Levine Cos. of Waterford, and in April it bought Folli, Wylie & Lane of Hamden. And the banking company has said recently that it intends to make more insurance deals.
Mr. Fisher said Webster would expand in a number of services.
"There are a lot of untapped areas in Connecticut," he said, "and we are exploring a great many options It is all a matter of timing."