For Robert Matthews, it was a case of serendipity. Matthews, a 25-year executive with Citigroup and Smith Barney, had left the company in 2008 and was in the early stages of building a high-touch private banking boutique. That’s when he stumbled on a shortcut. He discovered Fieldpoint Private Bank & Trust, a two-year-old company that matched his vision, had deep pockets, and was looking for leadership.
“I was out trying to build a firm that looked like Fieldpoint when I happened to bump into Fieldpoint,” chuckled Matthews, who was recently named president and chief executive officer of the firm.
But landing the job was no cakewalk. Fieldpoint Private was founded two years ago by a group of knowledgeable, wealthy and demanding investors. It has about $345 million in assets, $300 million in deposits, and $200 million in loans.
The list of founding shareholders reads like a Wall Street all-star roster: It includes former Merrill Lynch CEOs Daniel Tully and David Komansky, former UBS PaineWebber CEO Joe Grano, and Jerome Kohlberg, a founder of private-equity heavyweight Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
Mr. Matthews was vetted for six months, and underwent direct interviews with most of the bank's board of directors before being awarded the top spot. He started in the new position on June 30.
Citigroup has endured turmoil in recent years, but Mr. Matthews’ departure two years ago was not related to it. He retired from the company in 2008 due to a family matter.
“I left Citi in ‘08 on good terms, having fond memories,” he said.
Mr. Matthews has deep experience in the wealth advisory business, having served in of Smith Barney and Citigroup’s global private banking, wealth management and family office services.
At Fieldpoint Private, Mr. Matthews is in charge of expanding the business from its Greenwich, Conn., location to wealth markets around the country. A New York City office is slated to open in the first quarter of 2011. Within four years, Fieldpoint Private expects to be in as many as 10 cities.
The firm plans to grow organically, but will not rule out acquisitions. It envisions another round of investment to fund the expansion, said Mr. Matthews.
Fieldpoint Private offers private banking, business banking, wealth management and trust services, and family office services. The private bank’s identity is that of “a multi-family office with a bank attached,” said Mr. Matthews. Operating along the lines of a boutique European private bank, Fieldpoint pays close attention to both assets and liabilities, he said.
At boutiques in the United States, loans and investments are often segregated businesses. But Fieldpoint Private’s attention to both sides of the balance sheet allows it to differentiate itself, said Mr. Matthews.
Fieldpoint Private expansion plans are based on “a wealth of research” that shows private bank clients’ needs have largely gone unmet, said Mr. Matthews. The environment at large banks’ wealth management units is helping to drive demand, he said.
One problem large banks have is that they try to manage conflicts of interest that are “embedded” in the organizations, instead of eliminating those conflicts, he added.
“And service levels are based on managing to scale, to standardization,” he said. “Chances are if you have substantial means you are looking for the exact opposite.”
Kenneth Kehrer, director of research firm Kehrer-LIMRA, said that banks have been losing market share among high-end clients for decades. Turf wars within banks, a focus on products rather than client needs and conflicts around proprietary products are some of the reasons, he said.
Mr. Matthews insisted that Fieldpoint Private’s premium service does not come at a premium price. Credit pricing is slightly below rivals, while deposit pricing is slightly above, he said. “Our investment management is reasonable, especially given the level of customization, thought and support,” he said. “Our pricing versus large and small competitors puts us right in the middle of the mix.”
Fieldpoint Private refers to its clients as “members,” and Mr. Matthews insists that is more than rhetorical. “We think of ourselves as being a club dedicated to the members,” he said. “(Fieldpoint Private chairman) Dan Donahue would tell you everybody should have the same quality experience that Dan Tully has.”
Fieldpoint Private has trust powers nationally through the Office of Thrift Supervision, and is also chartered in both South Dakota and Delaware. Each state has attractive trust environments for both trust clients and trust companies.
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