SunTrust Banks Inc. plans to aggressively expand its unit that provides private banking services to professional athletes and musicians.

Over the next 12 months, the Atlanta-based banking company hopes to establish offices for SunTrust Sports and Entertainment Specialty Group in Los Angeles, and “perhaps” in Washington, D.C., and New York, said Thomas Carroll, a senior vice president for SunTrust Investment Services Inc., and the managing director of the sports and entertainment group.

On Wednesday, SunTrust announced it formed a San Diego office and hired Todd LaRocca and Billy Crafton and their respective investment teams. Carroll said by hiring these two executives, SunTrust has significantly expanded the scope of its sports and entertainment group geographically and in terms of the athletes that it represents.

“This move makes us a player in pro sports,” Carroll said. “We view this as an opportunity to take our platform and roll our other business into it and take it onto a national scale.”
SunTrust launched its entertainment group in Nashville 1988 and focused primarily on country music artists. Over the next 15 years, Carroll said the business evolved as SunTrust added offices in Atlanta and Miami to offer private banking services to musicians in those regions.

In 2004, SunTrust began offering private banking services to drivers and owners in the motor sports community through its Motorsports Private Banking Group’s offices in Charlotte, N.C., and Daytona Beach, Fla. In March 2006, SunTrust combined its sports and entertainment private banking practices to create the SunTrust Sports and Entertainment Specialty Group.

Last year, 54 of the 101 NASCAR races were won by drivers that are SunTrust clients, Carroll said. “We have developed strong share with those business and San Diego really represents the next frontier,” he said. “We have an opportunity now to become a big player with professional baseball, football, hockey and basketball players.”

LaRocca, formerly the head of the San Diego office for San Francisco-based CSI Capital Management, was hired as co-head of the San Diego office. Over the past 10 years, LaRocca, a former professional baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, has worked as a managing director and principal for CSI Capital Management.  

Crafton, formerly the principal of San Diego-based Martin Kelly Capital Management LLC, was also hired as co-head of the San Diego office. Crafton brings over a decade of experience as an investment advisor to professional athletes and high-net-worth individuals. Crafton began his career at CSI Capital Management before founding Martin Kelly Capital Management in 2006.

Carroll said 60% to 65% of LaRocca and Crafton’s client roster are professional baseball players, including six that played in the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star game. Their clients collectively have $600 million to $700 million in guaranteed contracts, Carroll said.

SunTrust would not say how large its sports and entertainment group is. Carroll said the business has increased its assets under management by “double digits” in the past year and he expects even stronger growth over the next three to five year. “We really like the growth profile of this business,” Carroll said. “We expect it to grow substantially and think this business is integral to our business model overall.”

Analysts said that other banking companies, including State Street Corp. in Boston and City National Corp. in Beverley Hills, Calif., have introduced business units to target athletes and musicians over the past five years because these clients present a lot of cross-selling opportunities. Carroll said SunTrust cross-sell lending, mortgage, banking and insurance services to its clients that are athletes and musicians. “This business has grown in terms of loans, deposits and assets under management even in a difficult market environment in the past two years,” he said. “Based upon the contracts that our clients have we expect strong growth to continue.”

SunTrust wants to continue to expand the business nationally, but it doesn’t necessarily need to add offices to do so, Carroll said. The group also has clients in 38 states from its offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Daytona Beach, Miami, and Nashville. “I tell my folks that what we do is a lifestyle not a job,” he said. “We help manage relationships that can be geographically challenging. We support clients and we will fly to them. We don’t need offices to do what we need to do.”