Families with $50 million or more in assets are among the fastest growing wealth segments today-a trend that is expected to only intensify the demand for family office services.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, the new parent of Wachovia Securities, is well aware of this rising demand, and is determined to show that a large bank can provide the deft personal touch that affluent clients want from their advisors.

The bank's Family Wealth Group is, in essence, a multifamily office serving ultra-wealthy families. The group, part of Wells Fargo Private Bank, is focused on managing wealth across generations.

Since launching in March 2008, the unit has grown to about $8.5 billion under management. Now, in the wake of a financial crisis that toppled Lehman Brothers and left other Wall Street giants on the verge of bankruptcy, Wells Fargo-one of the large banks that has fared relatively well through the turmoil-is hoping to see its family office make further inroads.

"We are set up to best serve a multi-generational family who takes an active role in managing their wealth," says Michael Cole, executive vice president and national director of the Family Wealth Group.  

The combination of Wells Fargo and Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia adds 15 states and about 3,400 branches to Wells Fargo's footprint, which mostly is west of the Mississippi. The deal also includes Wachovia's brokerage unit, with $1.1 trillion in client assets, 14,600 financial advisers and 1,500 offices nationwide.

Wells Fargo, which has been active in the high-net-worth market since 1852, has positioned the Family Wealth Group to serve families with at least $50 million in net worth from offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Cole says the group is planning on joining forces with Wachovia's high-end multifamily office complex, known as Calibre, but details about the merger have not been disclosed.  A spokesman at Wachovia declined to comment on the integration of the two groups.

Industry experts say Wells Fargo, like all advisors to the ultra-wealthy, has to go beyond a turnkey model that offers clients
little more than quarterly updates.

Just as affluent clients would expect from a boutique office, the Family Wealth Group consists of a multi-layered operation that includes wealth managers, attorneys, CPAs and other consultants-backed by the banking expertise of Wells Fargo.

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