CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Morgan Stanley said on Thursday it will seek to rapidly expand in the coming years its high-end wealth management unit catering to the ultra wealthy.

Morgan Stanley is hoping to increase its Private Wealth Management unit's employee base 40 percent over the next three to five years, said Christy Pollak, a company spokeswoman.

We want to make a statement to marketplace that we're dedicated to these clients, she said.

The division, which courts clients with at least $20 million in net worth, currently has 500 advisors globally, and plans to expand to approximately 700.

Pollak said the goal is to expand to 300 advisors in the United States, double the current level, and reach 400 advisors elsewhere on the globe through both organic expansion and acquisition.

The Private Wealth Management division is expanding into a competitive market segment.

Known as ultra-high net worth, clients with $20 million or more in assets are some of the most heavily fought over in the industry because they can generate large profits and revenues.

The step is the latest in the ongoing pairing of Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney's brokerage forces, under a joint venture between Morgan Stanley and Citi announced on Jan. 13.

Morgan Stanley owns 51 percent of the entity, known as Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. It boasts the world's largest brokerage force, with more than 18,000 advisors globally at the end of third quarter 2009.

Morgan Stanley's Private Wealth Management unit was created in 1997, and added advisors from Smith Barney's Citi Family Office this year. (Reporting by Joe Rauch; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)