LaFond, who has been with Wilmington Trust for eight years, said affluent customers are growing concerned about tax reform and the stability of the global financial markets.
He advises clients to take advantage of existing tax benefits that may decrease or be phased out in the near future. Transfer tax exemptions on dynasty trusts (a vehicle used to pass wealth onto the next generation), for instance, is currently set at $5 million, but is slated to tumble to $1 million next year.
LaFond said, “There has been a search for yield over the last couple of years and dividend income on the investment side have been quite popular.” But more than anything, he said, clients are looking for ways to maintain wealth for generations.
Opening the new office comes several months after the completion of M&T Bank’s $351 million acquisition of Wilmington Trust, a deal that helped the Buffalo-based bank beef up its advisory services.
“We provided some private banking capabilities and wealth management in the past, but did not have the depth, history and degree of key advisers that Wilmington brought,” said Peter Black, president of M&T Bank’s Washington region. “This was one of the first mergers that gave us a product capability, a service capability that really strengthened an area we were okay in.”
Wealth management, trust and corporate services are now the largest generator of non-interest income at M&T, accounting for 34 percent of fee income, up from 15 percent before the merger. With the cachet of the Wilmington Trust brand, M&T has no plans of changing the name as it strives to dominate the wealth advisory niche.
Washington, with its high concentration of affluent business people, was a natural choice for expansion. The region’s transition from a government town to one where industries such as technology and commercial real estate can thrive has created tremendous wealth, Black said.
“The economic viability of this town has put services that we have with Wilmington Trust on the wealth management side high in demand,” he said. “When you blend that with our commercial customers base, it gives us an opportunity to deliver a fuller range of services that we didn’t have before the merger.”
Wilmington Trust is entering an increasingly saturated market. Advisory powerhouses BNY Mellon and Northern Trust entered the Washington area last year, just as Convergent Wealth Advisors and Bank of America beefed up their services.
Competition is fierce, but Black and LaFond said they are confident that the combined strength and reputations of Wilmington Trust and M&T will give them an edge.