A choppy economic recovery, low interest rates and an influx of baby boomers reaching retirement age have led to an increased demand for money management services at the area’s community banks.
In response, some institutions have ramped up their wealth management divisions in recent months, while others have teamed with existing firms to help clients make sense of their portfolios.
“We continue to see healthy year-over-year growth [in our wealth management division],” said Lou Caceres, executive vice president of personal banking and investments at Sandy Spring Bank. “It has become a significant focus for our company.”
The Olney-based bank recently added three investment advisers to its trust department of 29, and has plans to expand further, bank executives said.
“Clients are looking for long-term investment help to see them through this time of elevated volatility,” said Jennifer Cumming, a senior investment adviser at the bank. “We’re helping them cut through the noise.”
Changes in tax laws and estate provisions at the beginning of this year have further fueled demand, she added, as have a growing number of retirees in the area.
“The elderly certainly have a lot of worries given the low-interest environment and the volatile market,” Cumming said.
At Burke & Herbert Bank, wealth management operations have grown more than 130 percent this year alone, according to Shannon Rowan, the division’s director.
“The response has been excellent,” Rowan said of the bank’s wealth management practice, which was introduced last year. “There seems to have been pent-up demand.”
Indeed, the number of wealthy families in the region — defined as those with net worth of at least $5 million — has risen steadily in recent years. There are now 45,000 affluent families in the Washington area, up from 24,000 in 2000, according to data from J.P. Morgan Chase.
But not all community banks are rushing to add new wealth management divisions. The field has become increasingly competitive in recent years with mega-players such as J.P. Morgan Chase and Citi Private Bank beefing up their local presence.
At Bethesda-based Eagle Bank, executives said adding a new wealth management practice just did not make sense. Instead, the bank — which has $3.5 billion in assets — has teamed up with Graystone Consulting, a wealth management off-shoot of Morgan Stanley, to meet customers’ changing needs.
“We are more of a business-oriented bank, but we recognized that we needed to react to the requests of our customers,” said Larry Bensignor, executive vice president at Eagle Bank, adding that there had been a steady rise in the number of clients looking for wealth management services.
“Right now, as we all know, the market is a tough place to invest,” he said. “Asset allocation — how you split your money between equities, fixed-income and alternative investments — has really become a focus for everybody.”