For a regional bank, is it better to have an image as a locally oriented institution, or a brand that’s tied to a large global conglomerate? Bank of the West in San Francisco is betting on the latter.
The $83 billion-asset firm unveiled a new logo this week that emphasizes its close connection to BNP Paribas, the Paris-based bank that has owned Bank of the West for nearly four decades.
The rebranding amounts to a wager that any fallout from negative public perceptions of global megabanks will be outweighed by new opportunities to generate revenue. It also seems to signal a long-term commitment by BNP Paribas to the U.S. retail banking market.
The revamped logo features the names of both companies, and Bank of the West is written in only slightly larger type than BNP Paribas is. The logo also uses the French bank’s recognizable emblem, which features four stars arranged in a curve against a green backdrop.
Bank of the West’s previous logo depicted a bear walking, and bore a strong resemblance to the grizzly bear image on California’s state flag. The bank’s roots in the Golden State go back to the 1800s. Today California is home to around 40% of Bank of the West’s more than 500 branches.
Bank of the West CEO Nandita Bakhshi sat down for an interview Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open, a pro tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., where the new logo was unveiled.
She indicated that the rebranding does not signify larger changes in how the bank plans to operate. Customers will continue to work with particular branch managers, and decision-making will remain local, she said.
“We are not going to lose our local flavor,” Bakhshi said.
During the interview, Bakhshi was quick to point out that Bank of the West is not ditching its ursine heritage. In addition to the new logo, the company has begun using a bear silhouette image on employee lapel pins, ATMs and elsewhere.
But the overhauled logo does reflect a strategic shift, which has been under way for several years. The basic goal is to sell more of Bank of the West’s retail banking products to BNP’s corporate customers, and vice versa. BNP also operates a New York-based commercial banking business.
“I think the concept is really, how further connected can we be?” said Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA and head of the firm’s corporate and institutional banking business in the Americas. “It doesn’t mean that one culture or the other culture will disappear. That would be value-destroying, by the way.”
As examples of the potential synergies, the two executives spoke about corporate banking customers that could rely more heavily on Bank of the West’s cash management capabilities, as well as senior executives at corporations that might turn to the San Francisco bank for wealth management services.
Bank of the West has been seeking to build its wealth management business in recent years, taking advantage of its large presence in Silicon Valley and other thriving West Coast markets. The BNP Paribas brand seems more likely to resonate with customers who are wealthy and travel internationally than it will with less well-off consumers.
BNP Paribas recently spun off another U.S. bank that it owned, First Hawaiian in Honolulu, in an initial public offering, part of an effort to raise its capital levels. The decision to rebrand Bank of the West as part of the $2.2 trillion-asset global bank suggests that executives in Paris have no plans to sell the San Francisco unit.
Referring to the U.S. market’s importance to BNP Paribas, Fillion said: “This is the largest balance sheet allocation for the group, after France. Meaning it’s very strategic for the group.”
BNP Paribas, which operates in 75 countries, has reaped substantial benefits in recent decades from the globalizing economy. Meanwhile, President Trump’s election and the U.K.’s decision last year to leave the European Union were both connected to voters’ concerns about globalization’s impact on their communities.
When asked about recent political trends, Fillion acknowledged concerns, but focused on the new opportunities that BNP Paribas may see. Those opportunities could include the chance to finance large U.S. infrastructure projects that were a Trump campaign promise, perhaps through partnerships between the government and the private sector.
“I’m hearing a lot today about private-public partnerships,” Fillion said, “which is, by the way, a concept European firms have been living with for many years, because this is the way there the economy has been organized.”