High-touch is meeting high-tech at U.S. Trust Corp., which is trying to reach high-net-worth clients over the Internet.
Though trust banks, which typically have minimum account sizes in excess of $1 million, usually use fairly staid marketing tactics-such as inviting prospects to play a round of golf-U.S. Trust is using its three-month-old home page to introduce itself to new clients.
The intended audience is "people who use the Internet who would not necessarily know of us through . . . traditional means,"said Ann M. Thibodeau, a vice president in marketing. "We decided to design this site for people who are not currently clients of U.S. Trust."
The site, www.ustrust.com/economic.htm, describes the services U.S. Trust offers in investment management and trust to individuals, institutions, and estate attorneys. U.S. Trust has $53 billion of assets under management in seven states.
Bessemer Trust Co., New York, is also working to set up a web site, and Northern Trust Corp., Chicago, has one. But two other bankers to the well- heeled, Glenmede Corp., Philadelphia, and Fiduciary Trust Company International, New York, do not.
"Our clientele are not the kind of people who you would think of as surfing the Web," a spokesman for Fiduciary Trust said. "It's a very discrete business."
Northern Trust's one-year-old site, www.ntrs.com, acts a "billboard" that promotes the bank's personal and institutional money management lines, according to Lori Nerenberg, vice president and electronic delivery product manager for Northern.
Every day the site offers free economic reports, which produce a "halo effect" for Northern. Ms. Nerenberg said the site has brought prospects to the bank, but she added that it treats these sales leads the same way it handles traditional ones: carefully.
"It's still the same thing. Trust companies have a responsibility to be guarded in our actions," Ms. Nerenberg said. "It just gives you a few more leads: maybe some good, maybe some not so good."
At U.S. Trust, five employees share the duty of retrieving electronic inquiries and responding eloquently to each one of them. Ms. Thibodeau said they handle between five and 10 per day. She added most people making inquiries over the Web want to know what U.S. Trust requires for opening an account.
At the lowest end, U.S. Trust offers an asset allocation program, dubbed the wealth management account, which has a $250,000 minimum and invests in its 34 proprietary Excelsior mutual funds. Clients typically need to invest more than a $1 million in an individually managed portfolio.
"There is some value in experimenting with the Internet," said David B. Master, managing director of Optima Group Inc., a Fairfield, Conn.-based consulting firm that advises investment managers. "I don't think they are likely to find a dramatic response to it."