Umpqua Bank’s plan to grow the private banking business to 10 times its size by 2018 may shift into high gear if its parent company’s planned acquisition of Sterling Financial Corp. is approved.

“Nothing has changed as far as the direction that we’re headed, but certainly this helps us accelerate our goals,” Kelly Johnson, head of Umpqua’s wealth management division, said of the acquisition of Sterling, the bank holding company of Spokane, Wash.-based Sterling Savings Bank. 

The transaction, which is expected to close in the first half of 2014, will boost Umpqua’s nascent private banking business in Seattle as Sterling has a wealth management presence there. Umpqua Private Bank, which originated in Portland, expanded into Seattle in May when it named Elise Fortin, a former executive of Wells Fargo Private Bank, to lead the growth of the business in what Johnson said was the nation’s 13th largest market of millionaires.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us, particularly in the Seattle market,” Fortin said of the merger, adding that it will affect Umpqua’s private banking business in “a positive way.”

Since she joined Umpqua, Fortin has hired two private bank advisors. She and her team are focusing their efforts on Generation X, a market that big banks have largely overlooked in their pursuit of Baby Boomers. “Large institutions have not necessarily adapted to the needs of Gen X,” said Fortin.

Seattle is teeming with Generation Xers lured by the tech industry’s high-paying jobs, according to Fortin. “100,000 new people are moving into Seattle every year driven by the tech industry, and the tech industry tends to hire people in that age range,” she said.

To raise its visibility among Generation X, Umpqua is opening an office in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, “the heart of the tech area,” said Fortin. The office will open in February in one of Amazon’s buildings.

“Her existing team is beginning to bring some respectable balances and good activity into the pipeline,” Johnson said of Fortin’s efforts. 

In San Francisco, Umpqua Private Bank will grow entirely on its own as Sterling does not have a presence in that market. Umpqua Private Bank opened for business in San Francisco in July with the appointment of Shane Hiller, a former Citi Private Bank executive, as market leader. Since his arrival, he has hired two private bank advisors, extended an offer to a third advisor, and plans to hire three to four more before the end of the year. The bank also opened a “flagship store” in downtown San Francisco, which Johnson described as a “cross between an Apple store and hotel lobby.”

“I was stunned with the number of people who are coming through just to see it because of the unique nature and the street presence that we have,” Johnson said of the new location.

Overall, the wealth management business is “on target” to hit more than $4 billion in deposit, loan and investment portfolio balances by 2018 from about $425 million in April of this year. Investment balances are up 15% from a year ago, while loan balances are up 70%, according to Johnson.

“We really are creating the buzz that we hoped for in all of our markets because of the people we’re hiring,” Johnson said.  “Nothing happens overnight as we all know in the wealth business, whether it be private banking or the investment side, but what does make an impact is the right people.”

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