The bank was incorporated on January 1, 1969. Total assets of the group were €288.1 bn as of December 31, 2008 (€292.1bn as of September 30, 2006) with operations spread over eleven countries in Europe, six countries in The Americas, six countries in Asia, Australia and South Africa, including significant investment banking operations in New York City, London, Luxembourg, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
WestLB was also the central institution for savings banks in North Rhine-Westphalia. On August 30, 2002 WestLB was transformed into an Aktiengesellschaft (joint stock company) and on July 19, 2005 institutional liability and guarantor liability were abolished, allowing the company to concentrate on commercial operations. The public finance tasks of economic and structural development were transferred to the NRW.BANK which now operates as the Landesbank of North Rhine-Westphalia.
In February 2008, as the global credit crisis evolved, WestLB was allocated a 5bn Euros guarantee by North Rhine-Westphalia and a group of local banks. The bank was reported to have suffered from exposure to investments in structured credits.
In November 2008 the board of WestLB announced that it intended to obtain state loan guarantees and look at raising additional capital from the German government's specially set up bailout fund. There are also any ideas to merge the WestLB with other state owned banks or to rearrange segments of the WestLB in the German system of state owned banks.
In November 2009 85 billion in problem assets were transferred from WestLB to a winding-up agency called Erste Abwicklungsanstalt (EAA), colloquially also called 'bad bank'.