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Atlantic Trust's New CEO Sees a Chance to Grow


Invesco's Atlantic Trust Private Wealth Management plans to take advantage of the "chaos" in the financial services industry to add assets and customers, according to its new chief executive officer.

Jeffrey S. Thomas, promoted to CEO earlier this month, said in an interview that the unit has increased its referrals from clients and intermediaries, including accountants and lawyers, in the past six months.

"The industry is in a state of flux, and there is just a natural chaos that is going on for sell-side brokerage firms, because of what is going on in other businesses," he said. "Forget Lehman and Bear Stearns - even more stable firms are facing challenging times."

Atlantic Trust is drawing clients from many different channels, Thomas said, because "our platform is stable, and in this environment today and on a relative basis, we look extremely attractive."

The Atlanta subsidiary, which caters to individuals with at least $5 million of investable assets, reported its seventh consecutive quarter of positive net flows in the fourth quarter, but its assets under management declined 21.2% from a year earlier, to $13.4 billion, because of difficult economic conditions.

By "taking advantage of the flux in the market," Thomas says, Atlantic Trust's assets will "get much higher than $17 billion" over the next three years.

"This is a difficult environment, but from these periods there will spring opportunities. We really believe that there is a lot of leverage in this market," he said. "Our competitive position has never been stronger, especially relative to our competitors. This is the ideal time for clients and intermediaries to get introduced to Atlantic Trust."

Analysts said private wealth managers that have avoided the headlines are positioned to gather customers and assets.

Burton Greenwald, president of B.J. Greenwald Associates, said many customers are leaving their wealth manager because its parent is facing regulatory scrutiny or has been sold.

Thomas succeeded Jack S. Markwalter, Jr. as Atlantic Trust's CEO, and Eric B. Propper succeeded Markwalter as its president. Markwalter, who had been the president and CEO since 2004, will remain chairman.

Thomas had been Atlantic Trust's chief investment officer, and Propper had been its chief operating officer.

Invesco bought Atlantic Trust in 2001, and over the next three years merged it with two other investment managers. The unit has offices in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Newport Beach, Calif., Houston, Austin, Baltimore and Washington.

The unit has "built a unique national footprint," Thomas said, and he wants to add advisers to these offices rather than opening new ones. "I think we can serve any wealthy family from where we are. We are really happy with our footprint." Over the past five years, Atlantic Trust has expanded organically, he said, and that will probably continue.

"I am not saying that we won't make an acquisition," he said. "But I think there is enough potential in this market, given the chaos, for us to expand opportunistically by picking up business from competitors and from select individual advisers who are interested in joining our platform."

Thomas said Atlantic Trust is working on several initiatives with Invesco to cross-sell products and services.

"I'd say we have had a good experience there, but there is an opportunity to expand on that," he said. "We are working to try to develop some more specific strategies with them." The relationship between Atlantic Trust and Invesco has been very positive, Thomas said.

"There is no pressure on us from our parent, and they haven't given us any magic number in terms of assets under management to reach." Nevertheless, "we have to grow this business," he said. "They want us to attract customers and advisers and operate at the top of this market."

Despite strong support from Invesco, Thomas said Atlantic Trust will be prudent with its expenses as the market continues to struggle.

"We are trying to do the right thing for our clients," he said. "We are still getting out there, but we are being conservative. We haven't slashed any big spending plans. We are maintaining our basic blocking and tackling strategy."

A spokeswoman for Atlantic Trust said it has increased its marketing spending in the past year to increase communications with customers. She would not give specific figures. Thomas elaborated: "We aren't out advertising or anything like that, but we have stepped up communications and support. We want to make sure we keep our clients in the game with a long-term wealth preservation strategy."

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