Bessemer Trust Co. is seeking to build its presence in California with a San Francisco office, due to open early next year.

The move into Northern California, coming on the heels of a May opening in Los Angeles, underscores New York-based Bessemer's desire to become a premier private bank on both coasts.

"The financial demographics are so strong, we felt it was necessary to go out there," said Donald J. Herrema, the bank's chief operating officer. With $12 billion in assets, Northern California affords a healthy mix of old and new money, he added.

Bessemer, founded in 1907 by steel magnate Henry Phipps, maintains an unusually high investment minimum of $5 million. Observers say the old-line trust company should have no problem getting noticed in the Bay Area. "In a city like San Francisco, which is one of the more Eastern-like California cities, Bessemer can be very successful," said Frank G. Frey, president of FMS Consulting in Blue Bell, Pa.

The move into California follows an expansion effort into western Florida, where Bessemer opened an office in Naples late last year. In addition to its Rockefeller Center headquarters, Bessemer has offices in Palm Beach, Fla., Miami, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

For Mr. Herrema, the advent of the San Francisco office represents a homecoming. The San Francisco native, who worked for Wells Fargo & Co. for 12 years, said his local connections make the creation of the new office "a natural for me."

Bessemer has benefited from a recent spate of referrals to clients' friends and business associates, Mr. Herrema said. Most new accounts are coming from people who are dismayed by the services at trust departments in banks, which are getting larger and more impersonal, he added.

He said he hopes similar opportunities abound in California. Some smaller banks in San Francisco, such as Sumitomo Bank of California and Pacific Bank, are pitching themselves as niche players for private banking.

But Mr. Herrema argued that Bessemer is the quintessential private bank. "This is the only business we're in. We don't have two tiers of clients. It's wealth management for the wealthy. We don't do retail," he said.

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