Nearly three years after launching its high-net-worth business, San Francisco-based Bank of the West is gearing up to move upmarket and woo the super wealthy.

Over the next 12 – 18 months, the bank will introduce the U.S. version of the ultra-high-net-worth wealth management program that its parent, BNP Paribas, rolled out in Europe and Asia, John Bahnken, head of the bank’s Wealth Management Group, said in a sit-down interview.

His group already has a strong leg up on building the business. “We know that there are ultra-high-net-worth clients who we are doing business with us today who, if we introduced a broader, more robust ultra-high-net-worth offering, we would get a much greater share of wallet from those clients,” Bahnken said.

The bank serves a number of ultra-high-net-worth clients through the fast-growing Private Client Services high-net-worth unit, which Bahnken launched in 2011, as well as the commercial banking group. The commercial banking business serves a number of business owners who are close to selling their businesses, making them potential new ultra-high-net-worth clients of the wealth management group.

“It’s a pretty big opportunity for us and that’s the reason we’re starting to focus on them now,” Bahnken said.

The new unit will leverage the global capabilities of BNP Paribas. Bahnken cited the example of an ultra-high-net-worth client who had sold his business for “hundreds of millions of dollars” and was interested in the subordinated and mezzanine debt of European companies.  The wealth management group was able to help the client by introducing him to the investment bankers and wealth and portfolio managers in Europe. “That was of high value to that client and it starts to begin to solidify the relationship,” Bahnken said.

The ultra-high-net-worth program in Europe—known as Key Clients—employs 120 relationships managers in Europe and Asia, who serve clients globally, said Sofia Merlot, head of the BNP Paribas Wealth Management Group. The business has about 50% of the French and Belgium ultra-high-net-worth market, according to Merlot.

The anticipated launch of the new business unit comes as Bahnken plans for the continued growth of Private Client Services.  The high-net-worth business has taken off nicely since it was introduced in 2011, more than doubling its clients from 6,000 to 15,000 at the end of 2013, said Bahnken. During that period, the unit hired 100 private client advisors and subject matter experts, such as trust officers and private mortgage bankers, and plans to add another 100 professionals over the next three years.

“We feel very good and confident about the growth trajectory of the business. So we’re now starting to think: how else can we grow,” Bahnken said.

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