Bank of the West’s push into the high-net-worth wealth management market appears to be paying off.

Since Private Client Services, the bank’s high-net-worth unit, launched in April 2011, business has grown at a robust pace with the number of clients doubling. “Today we’re doing as much in a month as we were doing in a quarter or six months two years ago,” John Bahnken, head of the Wealth Management Group, said of the unit’s client loan, deposit and investment balances.

Since joining the San Francisco-based bank in 2011, Bahnken has opened eight wealth management client centers for the exclusive use of affluent and high-net-worth clients with more than $250,000 in investable assets. The distinct office spaces provide wealthy clients with greater privacy than a traditional branch office setting, Bahnken said.

Over the next 12 months, Bahnken plans to open four additional wealth management centers, with the next one scheduled to open in Newport Beach, Calif. While he was not sure where the other three centers will be, he noted that the unit was considering tapping the global reach of BNP Paribas, the bank’s French parent company.

“We’re starting to consider potentially putting offices outside our 19-state footprint,” Bahnken said. “We’re now starting to think about are there other important centers in the United States where we can partner more closely with BNP Paribas to better serve clients around the world,” Bahnken said.

In addition to opening wealth management client centers, Bahnken hired a slew of relationship managers or “private client advisors” to serve high-net-worth clients in a holistic manner.  Today, the unit has 65 private client advisors. Over the next 12 to 18 months, Bahnken plans to add another 50, bringing the total number of private client advisors to “the low hundreds,” Bahnken said. He says he would like to hire even more private client advisors, but finding the level of talent and a “360 degree view of clients” the bank seeks is challenging, he said.

In addition to private client advisors, Bahnken plans to add 50 more trust officers, portfolio managers, financial advisors and other wealth professionals to the unit over the next year and a half.

One of the bank’s top goals is cultivating a new generation of advisors who are holistic in their view of client needs, Bahnken said. Within one year of forming Private Client Services, the bank launched the Wealth Management University, a comprehensive two-year training program that all advisors and wealth specialists must go through. 

“We knew that we were going to be in—over the next five years—a very high rate of growth environment,” Bahnken explained as the reason for developing the program. “We knew that our model was different – a little bit—than some of the other providers out there, and we wanted to be able to deliver our offering the Bank of the West way.”

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