Q&A with Johanna Blake, managing director and market executive for U.S. Trust

As a 17-year-old senior at Chaparral High School, Johanna Blake took a part-time job as a teller with Bank of America. What the Las Vegas native couldn’t imagine was that two decades later, she would be a senior executive with the same company.

Blake even continued working as a teller while studying finance and marketing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“I’ve been with the company for 23 years and I’ve gone through 13 mergers and acquisitions,” said Blake, managing director, market executive with U.S. Trust. “I’ve had opportunities to go with company after company, but I’ve stayed with Bank of America because I believe we have the best platform.”

Bank of America bought U.S. Trust, which is the oldest trust company in the U.S., for $3.3 billion in 2006. Today, Blake oversees Northern California and Nevada in her position with U.S. Trust, the private wealth management division of Bank of America.

“When we purchased U.S. Trust … I thought it was the best acquisition we made,” Blake said. “To keep the name was a great idea because we could be a boutique and have the private white-glove service.”

What is your definition of a high net-worth individual in Nevada?

We define high net-worth nationally. We don’t change it in Washington, D.C. We don’t change it in Dallas, San Francisco or Las Vegas. To be a U.S. Trust client our minimum net worth is $3 million in liquidity, not in real estate or other hard assets. It’s $3 million in liquidity. Our sweet spot is that $5 million-plus range.

How has the recession affected high net-worth clients?

There is no doubt that everybody was affected. I believe in the high net-worth space and our clients. We are all about holistic planning, asset allocation and diversification. Our clients weathered the storm very well. There is no doubt in my mind that on balance sheets zeros and decimals changed a bit. Quite frankly, the wealthy stayed wealthy.

Is there business to be gained in the high net-worth space?

We can see with the recovery there is no higher ability to penetrate market share in the high net-worth space.

Why is that?

Based on the rapid rise in family business ownership and increased wealth, especially first-generation wealth. Quite frankly, that has changed a lot. Specifically San Francisco, which is now second behind metro Manhattan in the ratio of households growing with $10 million or more in assets.

It seems every bank in Las Vegas is in the high net-worth space. Is that an accurate impression?

I’d say everyone is getting into the space and they are late to the game. The wire houses, and I’m not putting them down, but they post a placard on the door offering high net-worth or private banking. What I’ve found is that it is truly the same suite of products and they are trying to serve the high net-worth or ultra high net-worth clients.