The Customer Effect

BNP Paribas’ Bank of the West expands east with major wealth management focus

  • Bank of the West has opened its first New York City branch for high-net-worth clients as part of an ongoing U.S. expansion
  • Bank of the West is exploring how best to bring video, chat and co-browsing capabilities to branches for high-net-worth clients and improve other digital processes
BNP Paribas’ Bank of the West expands east with major wealth management focus

Explore the future of branches and their digital capabilities at the Tearsheet Forum: Bank of the Future on June 21 in New York. Early bird rates are still available; details here.

Bank of the West opened its first New York City branch for high-net-worth clients Wednesday as part of an ongoing national expansion plan.

The BNP Paribas-owned, California-based bank will provide traditional wealth services like brokerage and advisory, portfolio management, philanthropic services, along with financial and estate planning for clients, families and business owners and, particularly, expat clients. It’s a new and significant market for Bank of the West in terms of growth opportunity, even though the bank isn’t generally interested in expanding to new markets but rather “reinforce” its presence in existing markets, said Pierre Ramadier, head of wealth management at Bank of the West.

The bank is currently exploring how best to bring video, chat and co-browsing capabilities to branches for its clients and is “at the end of the process” of selecting the right vendors for it, he added. Its Tempe, Arizona branch would be the first to implement the forthcoming digital capabilities; it’s currently in the earliest stages of a pilot program, the results of which have been “very encouraging” thus far.

“The idea is to have remote financial advisers that will contact clients on phone or with video and help them navigate [the digital platform] with co-browsing capabilities,” Ramadier said.

Banks have been bringing retail and wealth management businesses closer together over the past year to try to increase the ROI of their physical footprints. Most recently, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said it’s pushing branches to grow its online brokerage and robo-advisory platform, Merrill Edge.

Retail bankers have spent the past few years focusing on cohesion between physical and digital channels — as part of that, they’re making their physical spaces more advice-driven and bringing wealth management services into them. Historically, financial advice, planning and wealth management products and services weren’t designated as things to do in-branch, but there’s a lot of benefit to bringing those capabilities to the forefront of branches, according to Steven Reider, founder and president of the marketing and branch-planning adviser Bancography. That’s why it’s likely banks will take initiatives from the wealth management department and stick them into the retail strategy with the younger generation customers, who will be the recipients of Boomers’ funds.

“There’s an aging society, the baby boomers who are approaching or at retirement,” Reider recently told Tearsheet. “Financial institutions see and appropriately fear the loss of those funds and that the parent generation passes away” and need to confront how they’ll keep those funds on the books.

About a year ago, Bank of the West and its parent company BNP Paribas underwent a rebranding that flaunted both the global reach of the French banking giant and the local flavor of the smaller San Francisco-based Bank of the West, as well as its proximity to Silicon Valley.

Bank of the West has been trying to grow its wealth management business over the last few years, particularly being so close to the tech world. Following its rebranding last March, it has tried to reach the high-net-worth customer that tends to do business with larger companies like BNP Paribas. In November, it hosted a four-day event for the children of its high-net-worth clients to learn abut impact investing, during which it brought the clients together with some of the world’s largest tech companies to discuss entrepreneurship, multigenerational family wealth and investing with purpose. In February, it launched an app called Voice of Wealth to bring news and market insights to clients.

Bank of the West currently has about 500 branches across 23 states onboarding 4,000 to 5,000 clients per year, two-thirds of which come from Bank of the West-related relationships and partnerships. The other roughly 30 percent come from business banking clients through BNP’s investment bank, Ramadier said.

It plans to hire more than 100 private client advisers and wealth financial advisers over the next three years. Today it has 120 private client advisers and 150 financial advisers. The New York branch alone plans to add 25 to 30 people to its staff over the next four years.

Like most of its peers, Bank of the West is approaching innovation through the lens of the client, trying to create better experiences on the client side by improving back-end processes. In November, it launched five chatbots — the first for Bank of the West — to streamline some of its back-office processes, which brought the digital account opening process in particular down to 12 minutes from 112 minutes, Ramadier said.

“Banks have some old core banking systems in terms of IT,” he said. “With the bots we can … have better processes, better customer experiences — and employee experiences — because we can have more people on client-side, rather than only working in the back office.”

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