“There is no shift in strategy, our strategy is as sound as it can be,” Waetjen said. “We’re just accelerating it with additional resources.”
In recent months, Washington’s fourth largest bank, with $12.2 billion in deposits, has plucked a handful of bankers from competitors to fill the ranks of the group. Waetjen estimates the team has grown at least 25 percent in personnel, though he would not provide the total number of bankers.
Wealth management has long been a BB&T staple, though in the past three years, Waetjen said, the bank has enhanced the service with the introduction of a unified management account platform. That tool provides clients with a single, unified view of their entire investment strategy.
“Wealthy individuals working with this type program are not stuck with buying only investment options that BB&T wants to push,” Waetjen said. “They can invest in whatever is out in the marketplace, and get a unified statement showing all of those investments.”
Waetjen said there has been a company-wide mandate to quadruple the private banking business in the next five to seven years. The service line, he added, offers steady revenue in the face of dwindling fee income and tepid loan demand.
Banks across the region are well aware of that benefit and have been ramping up their wealth management offerings, especially in Northern Virginia.
Wells Fargo, in particular, has leveraged Wachovia’s footprint in the area to push its suite of private banking products. The bank started amassing an army of financial planning professionals last August for its “mass affluent” program advising high-net worth individuals on investments, jumbo mortgages and retirement.
Waetjen is confident BB&T can build upon its existing relationships with small and mid-size business owners to further grow the wealth management business. Roughly 50 percent of the bank’s business is sourced from business clients, making them prime candidates for cross-selling wealth management products.
Northern Virginia is the largest of the 36 regions in which BB&T organizes its operations. Greater Washington as a whole has been a key regional focus for the bank, as it “represents 10 percent of the bank’s total net income,” Waetjen said.
Earnings at BB&T penciled in at $234 million in the first quarter, a 20.6 percent year-over-year increase, though net interest margins slipped 4 percent.
“BB&T is in a position to take advantage of the current economic climate and build its product lines,” said banking analyst David West of Davenport & Co. “They are trying to be opportunistic and target markets, like Northern Virginia, with growth potential.”