By Elizabeth Dilts
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc is expanding a financial advisory service for top executives to target millions of other affluent employees at some of the biggest U.S. companies, as it seeks to build its retail and wealth management businesses.
Goldman's Ayco unit provides high-end tax and wealth advice to top executives at some 400 companies, including 60 Fortune 100 companies. According to the bank's estimates these firms employ at least 8 million people and Goldman now wants them as clients, too.
Goldman began rolling out a new Ayco personal finance website for rank-and-file workers in October and has so far signed up 70 companies. By the end of 2019, the bank hopes to have signed up around 100 companies, which employ 2 million employees, Larry Restieri, the unit's chief executive, said in an interview this month.
In recent weeks, it has also started pitching high-yield savings accounts and personal loans from its online bank Marcus through the Ayco website, Restieri added.
The rollout is the latest effort of the Wall Street trading and advisory firm to reposition itself as a traditional bank.
Goldman seeks to reach a wider customer base. Its trading business has been shrinking. In the first quarter, the bank's corporate clients helped it grow mergers and acquisitions revenue but overall revenue slumped.
Chief Executive David Solomon must deliver on a target of $5 billion in new annual revenue by 2020 or risk getting squeezed by rival behemoths like JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp . [https://tmsnrt.rs/2H81K9a]
The bank took its first step toward that goal with the creation of Marcus in 2016. In March, Goldman announced a co-branded credit card with Apple Inc, which will connect it to hundreds of millions of iPhone users.
Expanding Ayco is the next step into the $9 trillion U.S. mass affluent customer market and offers the bank an opportunity to gain new clients cheaply.
The primary cost to the bank - developing the online platform - will be offset by fees companies will pay to offer the service to their workers, Goldman executives said.
Some investors fret Goldman is expanding into an area where it has little experience. They worry the bank is making $40,000 personal loans and extending credit card debt to iPhone users when the economy is showing signs of slowing.
Goldman thinks otherwise. Executives there say the Ayco expansion is part of a bigger plan, culminating with the launch of a retail wealth management offering later this year.
Restieri said it is too early to put numbers on the contribution the expanded Ayco could make toward Goldman's $5 billion goal.
In November, the bank said that it was halfway toward meeting that target and that Ayco, along with private wealth management and asset management, had so far contributed $400 million.
Ayco's website, called Financial Wellness, starts with an online questionnaire. Employees of corporate clients such as Google's parent Alphabet Inc answer questions like, "Do you generally live within your means?" and "Do you have an emergency fund?"
After workers answer questions about their savings, credit card debt, student loans and other finances, Ayco offers what it calls solutions such as Marcus savings accounts, personal loans or products from other financial institutions.
Adoption rates are a question. One company that offered a financial incentive got as much as 60 percent of its employees to use Financial Wellness. Others have seen lower pick-up rates.
But as Ayco rolls out its mass-market offering, Restieri thinks it will benefit from brand cachet of having already served the bosses.
"When this offering is presented to employees, the top C-suite of those companies would have already been using us for 10-15 years," Restieri said.
(Reporting By Elizabeth Dilts; editing by Neal Templin and Paritosh Bansal)