First Republic Bank - in the news this week after several private equity groups, including Blackstone and the Carlyle Group reportedly expressed interest in buying it from Bank of America Corp. - is a private banking and wealth management firm focused on high net worth individuals and their businesses.

San Francisco-based First Republic, founded in 1985, was acquired by Merrill Lynch in September 2007 for $1.8 billion. One analyst estimated the bank would sell today for about $700 million.

It had $36.6 billion in assets, the majority in consumer loans and leases, as of March 31 this year, according to its latest quarterly report. Its offices are located mostly on the West Coast, with a smaller East Coast presence.

Merrill, which had announced the acquisition in January of that year just ahead of the current financial crisis, decided to let First Republic operate as a stand-alone brand within the company. Just a year later, however, Merrill sold itself to Bank of America as the financial and credit crisis peaked.

Merrill’s plans for First Republic at the time the acquisition closed included growing Merrill’s high net worth, private banking business and replicating the bank’s success in other affluent markets across the country, an executive said at the time of the purchase.

First republic’s businesses include private banking, private business banking, real estate lending, trust, brokerage and investment management.

According to the company’s latest quarterly report’s unaudited balance sheet, as of March 31 this year, the bank had about $34.6 billion in assets. Its consumer and commercial loans and leases were about $20.6 billion and $6.4 billion respectively. It had about $3.2 billion in cash and cash equivalents, with other mostly other assets rounding out the rest. The bank had total equity of $4.1 billion.

Foreclosed real estate holdings at the end of the latest quarter were less than 1/10th of 1 percent of total assets, the company said.

Its capital ratios exceed regulators requirements, with a Tier 1 capital ratio of 9.26 percent.