Charlotte remains the nation’s No. 2 banking center, with its two financial titans and a growing network of smaller firms employing thousands in the area. But in many ways, Banktown has changed.Four years after the financial crisis, Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. is still struggling to rebuild. It’s working through the mortgage troubles it inherited from its 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp., adjusting to new government regulations and trying to rebuild its public image in the wake of biting criticism from customers, investors and politicians.The bank has also implemented a wide-ranging cost-cutting initiative that will lead to more than 30,000 job cuts over the next few years. As part of the efficiency plan, Bank of America has been shedding nonessential businesses and real estate holdings, including the Hearst Tower, a fixture on the local skyline.The bank’s assets of more than $2 trillion is still enough to hold Charlotte’s place as the nation’s second-largest banking center behind New York. As Bank of America slimmed down, it slipped from its perch as the country’s biggest lender by assets, falling behind New York-based rival JPMorgan Chase & Co.Charlotte lost another distinction last year when San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. completed its merger with Wachovia Corp. In October, branches across the state exchanged their familiar blue-and-green signs – the final relics of a brand born in Winston-Salem in 1879 – for Wells Fargo’s red-and-yellow ones.The Charlotte area’s labor force is still feeling the effects of the financial meltdown, too. Mecklenburg County lost more than 5,600 finance-sector jobs and $1.3 billion in wages, a drop of almost 25 percent, from 2007 to 2009.Yet hopeful signs have begun to emerge. Financial jobs in Mecklenburg began ticking up in 2010, and the sector now employs nearly 50,000 people. That’s down from 54,000 in 2007, the year the recession began, but up from 48,000 in 2009.Finance-sector wages have rebounded, too, with paychecks up more than 20 percent from 2009.In recent years, financial companies such as Ally Financial and mortgage processor Zenta have announced plans to expand in Charlotte, eyeing the area’s pool of talented finance workers. Small investment banks and private-equity firms have spun off from bigger lenders, and community banks have continued their push into the region.The Charlotte region’s business landscape is becoming more diverse, with energy companies, data centers and other firms moving in. Chiquita Brands International was one of the latest wins: It announced last year it would move its headquarters to Charlotte, with plans to hire about 200 local workers in addition to moving 160 from the company’s former base in Cincinnati.But the big banks, long credited with driving the area’s population boom, attracting businesses and raising money for civic projects, remain major players. Bank of America employs about 15,000 workers in Charlotte, steady in recent years as it has added and cut workers. Wells Fargo has more than 20,000 employees in the area, about the same as before the merger with Wachovia.Both banks remain heavily involved in local charities, donating millions to various causes.And they remain a dominant presence uptown, with their names on everything from the city’s skyscrapers to the Panthers’ home, Bank of America Stadium – which will attract even more national attention this fall with a role in the Democratic National Convention.
Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012
‘Banktown’ rebuilding but still strong
Charlotte’s banking landscape The finance sector employs about 50,000 workers in Mecklenburg County. Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. and San Francisco’s Wells Fargo & Co. have about 35,000 local employees. Mecklenburg’s finance sector pays out more than $5 billion in annual wages – almost 20 percent of the county’s total private-sector paychecks. Wells Fargo bought Wachovia in 2008 in the largest bank merger in U.S. history. The Wachovia brand was born in Winston-Salem in 1879. The bank’s headquarters moved to Charlotte when it merged with First Union in 2001. The rivalry between Wachovia and Bank of America helped forge uptown’s skyline and drew businesses and workers from around the country.
Kirsten writes about banking for the Observer.
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