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Commerce to Offer Free Wealth Management

Commerce runs the gamut from free coin-counting to free online wealth management.

Commerce Bancorp (Cherry Hill, N.J., $38 billion in assets) has acquired eMoney Advisor (Conshohocken, Pa.), makers of an online wealth management system used by MetLife, MassMutual, Guardian Life and several other financial services companies. The $32 million all-stock deal puts the innovative bank in the position to change the dynamics of wealth management for "mass affluent" banking customers.

When Commerce Bancorp sought a software platform to support its capital markets and private banking subsidiary, it evaluated almost 30 technology vendors. "We weren't out there looking for something to buy," relates David Hargarten, director of commercial marketing and senior vice president, Commerce Bancorp. "We were looking for a platform."

But what it found was eMoney Advisor, which not only offered Commerce a viable platform for its wealth managers and private bankers, but also a way to differentiate the retail experience. That's part of the culture at Commerce, which pioneered branch banking innovations such as weekend hours and free self-service coin-counting machines.

Soon, Commerce customers will be able to count their millions for free as well as their pennies. Later this spring, the bank plans to launch a self-directed version of eMoneyAdvisor, "Virtual Private Banker," free of charge. "We can provide our customers a great deal of functionality—all of the aggregation components, the online vault, and robust financial planning tools," explains Hargarten. "They'll be able to do it from their own desktop without necessarily engaging or paying for the advisory component."

While the offering may certainly lead to new customers in wealth management and private banking, the primary goal is customer service. Indeed, users will be able to grant access priviliges to their own attorneys, accountants and advisors outside of the Commerce orbit. "This is not about Commerce private bankers or Commerce financial advisors controlling all of the assets or accounts of a client," says Hargarten. "We hope by virtue of bringing [eMoney Advisor] to the client, they'll see us as someone who's constantly adding value to their financial services relationships."

"To us, that's a win," Hargarten adds.

Building Brand Value

"I'm really in love with this product," said Vernon W. Hill II, Commerce Bancorp chairman and CEO, speaking to investors. "We look at this as a way to take the convenience experience to the next level, to a group that's not particularly using the branch, and it tightens the brand value."

Brand value is something of a mantra at Commerce. "Retailers know that the way to create real value is to build a brand—not an ordinary brand, not a run-of-the-mill brand, but a brand where the customers are attached to you," said Hill. "Great retailers know they have to improve the customer experience all the time, and that's the challenge that we have."

Commerce will continue to support and develop the advisor-directed version of eMoney Advisor, which will be marketed to advisory firms, broker/dealers and insurance companies. The "Virtual Private Banker" will also be offered to a select number of banks on an exclusive basis.

Commerce currently has branches in the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, New York and Washington, plus southern Florida, and anticipates 18 percent annual growth in its store base through 2010 with expansion into the Boston area and western Florida. "We've never shut a store down, and we've never opened a bank that didn't make money," stated Hill.

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