One of the most likely but least obvious reasons for Bank of the West’s surprise move into the mass-affluent market is summed up in two words: Generation X.

Generation X and the younger Generation Y—unlike Baby Boomers—see banks as places where they want to both do their banking and manage their investments provided the banks have good online brokerage platforms and tools, said Sophie Schmitt, a senior analyst with independent research firm Aite Group, in a telephone interview.

With its recent rollout of a new online brokerage platform, Bank of the West took an important step in attracting the mass-affluent and appealing to the self-directed investing needs of younger investors, Schmitt said.

“They see a big opportunity. They have a large consumer base of deposit clients,” she said, adding that most of those clients are likely to be investing elsewhere because Bank of the West until now “hasn’t had a good offer on the investment side.”

Gen X and Gen Y make up nearly half (48%) of the sizable mass-affluent market, the largest of any wealth segment.  According to research from Booz & Co., the mass-affluent outnumber their wealthier high-net-worth counterparts by nearly two to one, with some 13 million mass-affluent U.S. households representing $7.5 trillion of investment capital.

The bank’s move into mass-affluent market segment has been a long time in the making, according to Schmitt. “They’ve been on this journey for a while,” she noted.

To be sure, the bank has made the journey in silence. For the past two years, it has concentrated on launching, building and promoting its high-net-worth business and kept mum about its plans for a mass-affluent offering. It rolled out its brokerage site quietly in May, without even issuing a press release. And it announced its intention to pursue the mass-affluent market in a sit-down interview with Bank Investment Consultant last month, again without issuing a press announcement.

The bank will ramp up its marketing efforts in 2014, when it brings together its integrated banking and investing offer, John Bahnken, head of the bank’s Wealth Management Group, said during the interview last month.

The bank, of course, is not blazing any new trails, but is merely following in the footsteps of larger rivals that launched online brokerage platforms to woo mass-affluent customers. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi  and Chase are among the banks to have amped up their online investment offerings for the mass-affluent over the last few years, said Schmitt.

Erin Davis, a senior analyst at Morningstar, provides another reason for why Bank of the West is branching out into the mass-affluent market. It makes sense, she explained, for the bank to bring more clients onto a technology platform that it went to the trouble to build. “I think that to the extent that they’re able to offer an automated service on a platform they have already built, it’s probably just incremental revenue,” she said.

For Schmitt’s part, the bank’s expansion into the mass-affluent market was strictly a strategic move. “As a bank it makes sense for them to be focused on all those [wealth] segments,” Schmitt said, noting that Bank of the West may have prioritized the mass-affluent for development after building the high-net-worth business.

Indeed, the bank’s high-net-worth unit has been growing at a robust pace with the number of clients doubling since its launch in 2011. It is doing as much business in a month as it was doing in a quarter or six months when it first started, the bank said. “We’re in the business of helping clients, and our success—or in other words, the Bank of the West way—has enabled us to work with a wider range of clients, specifically those who have $100,000 to $250,000 in investable assets,” Bahnken said.

In the mass-affluent segment, however, Bank of the West, like all banks, will face challenges, the biggest being differentiating its offer, according to Schmitt. “Too much of the industry is focused on treating everyone in the mass-affluent space the same,” she said.

Read More:

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Bank Investment Consultant content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access