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Banks Up Profit Bets on the Rich

Lately, though, Krawcheck's division has begun to show signs of stress - mainly because it's pursuing the same goals as everyone else. For instance, in December, Michael C. Brown, a former U.S. Trust advisor who managed $5.9 billion in client assets, left to join an independent firm called Dynasty Financial Partners. His departure led Krawcheck to implement a new rule that forces advisers to give 60 days' rather than two weeks' notice before resigning, accept reduced pay during that time and pledge to not solicit clients for eight months.

Industry veterans who work with wealthy clients describe the rules as draconian but not surprising.

"Competition has never been greater," says Dave Schug, a managing director at SEI Investments Company (SEIC), which works with banks' wealth management and private banking departments.

"It's more competitive than ever," adds Jerry Hourihan, national sales manager for the private client group within Chartis, a division of American International Group (AIG). "Ten years ago there was really only one provider, today there are five or six and I think, more and more, as institutions see what a good business it is, we'll have more competition."

Hourihan says that "nearly every major bank" partners with his team to offer everything from home and auto policies to insurance on wine collections or transportation services for fine art. As banks have shown more interest in catering to their wealthy clientele, Chartis began offering education programs on its products and services and how to pitch them the right way. Last year, more than 1,000 planners and advisers took the course.

While Bank of America appears focused on everyone from the mass affluent to the über-rich, competitors are taking different approaches.

Goldman Sachs (GS), for instance, has long been a bank for the elite. But now that new rules on trading, capital and leverage have made certain operations less profitable, Goldman is working harder to woo and retain top-tier clientele.

But a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story this year detailed the struggles that its asset management arm is facing, due to management turnover, a bruised public image, poor returns and high fees. High-profile clients have pulled hundreds of millions of dollars out of GSAM as a result.

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