World’s Best Private Banks 2021: North America

The best private banks in North America are putting new energy into the domestic market and pursuing up-and-coming customers below the highest levels of wealth.

North America domiciles some of the world’s biggest banks with some of the farthest-flung client bases on the planet. Over the past year, however, their private-banking units have been looking inward, expanding their presence within the US and redefining their business to include more affluent customers below the ultrahigh net worth level.

To make the new strategy work requires closer ties between private banking and other services such as investment banking and commercial lending: a significant break from tradition in a business legendarily built on exclusivity. But banks like Goldman Sachs have their eye on the next generation of ultrarich, and they aim to capture these prospects on their way up.

Methodology: Behind the Rankings

Global Finance staff select winners for these awards based on entries submitted by banks, company documents and public filings. No proprietary information was sought or shared in the awards process. We consider local market knowledge, global footprint and investment breadth and sophistication. Because metrics are rarely public in this sensitive corner of finance, we incorporate perspective from analysts and consultants. Performance data are also drawn from industry sources including Scorpio Partnership’s annual Global Private Banking Benchmark and Asian Private Banker magazine’s regional league tables. Size and growth are a factor, but Global Finance also considered creativity, uniqueness of offering and dedication to private banking as a core business either globally or regionally.



This was the year for staying home, and JP Morgan took the cue. The New York–based firm retreated from some peripheral global markets, including Brazil. It bided its time in China to take over an asset management joint venture. But it raised its game decisively in locations like Kansas City; Columbus, Ohio; and central New Jersey, appointing new regional managers for private banking and adding personnel.

Filling in the US heartland makes sense for JP Morgan. It controls the country’s largest retail bank, Chase, but lags far behind industry giants Morgan Stanley and Bank of America in wealth management and private banking. CEO Jamie Dimon signaled a push for growth when he named JP Morgan Chase’s chief marketing officer, Kristin Lemkau, to head wealth management late last year. She oversaw a somewhat bewildering reshuffle of division structures, but the aim seems clear: to blend Chase’s enormous client reach with JP Morgan’s market muscle.

JP Morgan’s pullback from more distant markets has not extended directly south of the border. The bank implemented a strategic decision to service high net worth Mexicans primarily out of Houston, guessing they would want to put liquid wealth to work outside their homeland. That office targeted 15 new hires for 2020.

Dimon, Wall Street’s highest-profile banker, told shareholders two years ago he saw “no reason JP Morgan can’t more than double our share over the next 10 years.” His strategy for doing so is now clear.



As an investment bank, Goldman Sachs churns wealth for American entrepreneurs, topping the US league tables in IPOs, M&A and equity raised in both 2019 and 2020. Private banking at Goldman used to be somewhat siloed from this prodigious engine of cash creation, with an emphasis on the ultrarich. No more.

Goldman joined the rush to make private banking more democratic, with a September shake-up that put wealth management and consumer into a single division under the leadership of a Wall Street superstar, Stephanie Cohen. Traditionally a stand-alone investment bank, Goldman has enjoyed surprising success with its online consumer bank Marcus, which has swelled from zero to $96 billion in deposits over four years. But the richest pickings for its expanded wealth management franchise will be the newly minted millionaires spawned by its torrent of capital markets deals.

There may be hotter competition for master of the universe these days, but in private banking, Goldman is getting serious.



Bank of America (BofA) broke the institutional wall between private banking and its prodigious commercial-lending franchise last year, when it retired the US Trust brand it acquired in 2007 and moved its high-net-worth individual clients in-house. That house keeps adding more rooms.

Leaving global expansion to its competitors in New York, BofA doubled its roster of US regional offices to 40 since Katy Knox took over as president of the division in 2017. These new markets are already packed with BofA business banking customers, who presumably will now find it simpler to park their wealth there as they prosper.

BofA has taken pains to establish a reputation as a good corporate citizen, a soft asset of increasing value as social responsibility and sustainability become more important to the image of corporate America. Among other projects, it has been deeply involved in building Charlotte from a provincial Southern town into something of a model for diversity and sustainability. Accordingly, BofA is ranked second among US peers by Just Capital, a nonprofit that quantifies commitment to employees and community. That should attract still more business customers in the heartland, where BofA Private Bank is increasingly establishing a presence.