Goldman Sachs Group Inc, the banking gold standard for the world's elite, sees a future in less prosperous investors.
A creative strategy taking shape inside the bank calls for it to partner with small brokerages and wealth management firms to lend money to their clients, many of whom have far less wealth than what's in the typical Goldman private bank account.
The idea is for Goldman to reach a big set of borrowers, in the U.S. and possibly abroad, without having to acquire them through a merger or build relationships one by one, people familiar with the initiative said. The plan is still in very early stages and may not be active until next year, the people added.
The strategy is unusual not just for Goldman, but across Wall Street, since most banks simply lend to their own customers. It also carries more risk because it may be harder to vet borrowers or the assets they post as collateral.
The bank is looking to earn money from a broader borrower base as profits from traditional businesses like bond trading have slowed down. In April, Goldman completed a deal to buy $17 billion worth of online deposits from GE Capital Bank to expand its reach on Main Street.
"Growing the lending business to a broader client base helps to offset some of the pain that has been happening on the trading side," said Steven Chubak, an analyst with Nomura.
Bankers involved with the Goldman plan say they are not upending its business model of catering to the uber wealthy. The typical client in Goldman's U.S. private wealth unit has an average account size of around $50 million. Those customers are where Goldman remains primarily focused, said the bankers, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Lending to wealthy individuals and corporate clients represented less than half of the balance sheet within Goldman's investing and lending business segment at the end of 2010, but that percentage is now more than 75 percent.
The new strategy will target clientele who are lower on the economic totem pole. Sources would not detail a wealth threshold for borrowers Goldman will reach through third parties, but said they are likely to be "mass affluent" -- which is broadly defined as those with less than $1 million in investable assets.
They declined to give details on how its partnerships with brokerages will work in terms of fees, underwriting or collateral.