Wells Fargo East Coast president Laura Schulte and Charlotte market president Kendall Alley spoke with the Observer to discuss the first anniversary of the Wachovia-to-Wells changeover and the state of the bank.
Responses have been condensed.
Schulte on the past year:
We are continuing to build momentum toward the way that we deploy our business model. We are acquiring more customers at all levels from first-time banking customers to those who are building their future wealth and retirement. Then were also focused on small-business customers and medium-sized business customers.
Part of our business model is to make sure that all of our customers have a plan. If you come into a store and meet with a banker, youll hear them asking a lot of questions about financial priorities so that we can match up what we can offer to clients to help them achieve those priorities. Thats really the link that we have with clients in terms of our relationships.
In addition to that, weve been really focused on helping people stay in their homes. Then a focus on lending. We are open for business, and weve increased our lending. We still have lots of capacity.
In the East, its really been business as usual for Wells Fargo, but a lot of our business models have been a little bit new. Its exceeded our expectations in terms of what we have accomplished so far, and weve got so much opportunity that its really exciting.
Schulte on Charlottes jobs outlook:
We do look at efficiencies for the company, so that we can pass along that to our customer or to invest in the company. But there is a point at which you cut into the revenue stream, and were not going to do that.
Im thinking of the people who are here in Charlotte. If theyre in the support side, theyre decked against critical functions. Technology functions, risk functions. And our risk management team is growing all the time, for lots of reasons, including some of the expectations from the regulatory agencies and so forth.
Were not about to reduce the number of stores or the number of people in our stores.
Its not as if were operating grossly inefficient. Its not as if we have to make some substantial changes to grow our capital or to reduce our expenses. Were constantly looking at that, but this isnt a company that says OK, we have to cut across the board 20 percent. This is a company where we say, What are we doing thats not as efficient as it could be, what are we doing that we dont need to be doing, and how can we save money by being more efficient?
Weve reduced our headcount overall, but another way of reducing expenses is deploying our resources in a lower-cost geography. Thats another thing that Charlotte brings to the table.
Alley on Charlottes jobs outlook:
The beauty of what we have in Charlotte is the diversity of the businesses we have here. We have technology, we have wealth background, we have call center execution, we have mortgage, we have underwriting, risk structure, legal, compliance. The diversity we have in Charlotte is such that at any given point, one of those businesses is in growth mode.
Thats what helps Charlotte, is the fact that we have such diversity in businesses that are already located here. Thats, quite frankly, one of the benefits of it having been a headquarters city.
Schulte on the banks dominance in the mortgage business:
I dont think (Wells mortgage executives) are anticipating a huge change in the mortgage market next year, and not a huge change in refinancing vs. purchase (loans).
When those things do change, they have really perfected the art of being able to drop their expenses, underwriters and processors. Generally what will happen in the mortgage business, if the originations change, youre able to change expense structure.
Schulte on checking account fees:
The distribution that we have, the ATM network that we have across the country, the convenience we provide, is worth something to our customers, and its not free. Despite the fact that people see ATMs everywhere, theyre expensive to operate. We have to charge a fair price for the value we provide.
The key is that our customers have to see value in what we provide to them. If we can find ways to help them avoid fees, were going to tell them about it. We want to be a partner in giving them as many choices as they can. Ultimately the customer is going to have to choose what works for them.