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5 things you might not know about Bank Town

It’s become part of the standard narrative of Charlotte: We’re a business-minded town that grew into the banking center of the South.

So if you’re here, you’ve probably heard that Charlotte is the nation’s No. 2 financial center after New York City, by virtue of being home to Bank of America. If you’re not one of the 50,000 finance sector workers in Mecklenburg County, you may know a dozen or two.

You probably also are aware that the city’s finance sector has had its share of tough times. Charlotte lost one of its banking powers, the blue-and-green Wachovia, during the financial crisis. It got scooped up by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo when its bet on adjustable-rate mortgages went bust.

Both banks are still cutting costs in the new banking landscape. Bank of America alone has shed more than 30,000 jobs across the company in the past two years.

But here are a few things you might not know about Bank Town.

1) Wells Fargo employs more people here than in its headquarters city.

Sure, the powers-that-be at Wells Fargo mostly keep their offices in San Francisco. But in terms of sheer manpower, Charlotte remains the center of activity. With about 20,500 “teammates” – as Wells is fond of calling them – in the city, Charlotte outstrips every other hub in the bank’s network in employee count.

In case you’re curious, Minneapolis actually comes in No. 2 with about 19,600 employees. The headquarters city is third at about 18,000.

2) The banks still own half the major real estate uptown.

Despite recent sales, the two big banks still own half of the 10 largest office buildings uptown. That includes the two largest – the Duke Energy Center, owned by Wells Fargo, and Bank of America’s corporate headquarters.

The figure has shrunk over just the past year, though. Both of the banks are continuing to look to unload real estate as they trim expenses.

Over the past few months, Center City Partners president Michael Smith has taken to telling city leaders it’s time to start thinking about a new skyscraper uptown – but he knows it won’t be built by a bank.

3) Charlotte’s big bank names aren’t local.

Bank of America is our hometown bank, but it’s name actually comes from California. It had been known as NationsBank, and before that North Carolina National Bank. The current name came after then-CEO Hugh McColl engineered a merger with San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp. in 1998. After some drama, the headquarters and top management came from Charlotte – but McColl liked the name from the West Coast.

Wells Fargo is from San Francisco, as well, brought to the East Coast in the Wachovia deal. But even the Wachovia name wasn’t from Charlotte. It came to the city in 2001 from Winston-Salem, when Charlotte’s First Union acquired its homegrown bank.

4) Wells is still king in deposits and branches.

Even though it’s no longer local, Wells Fargo still is the biggest player in town when it comes to Charlotte’s bank accounts. Nearly one in four dollars of bank deposits in Mecklenburg County is at Wells Fargo, far ahead of Bank of America’s 17 percent.

Wells also has a 51 branches in the county to BofA’s 37. The advantage was built up in the Wachovia days and has only grown wider since the financial crisis.

5) Banks pay a huge chunk of the county’s wages – but the big earners only visit.

The finance industry is a major employer in the city, and a lot of those jobs pay pretty well. The sector paid $1.2 billion in total wages in Mecklenburg County last year, according to state data. That’s about 14 percent of the total that the workforce brought home.

But the real big money players at Charlotte’s banks don’t live here.

The nation’s highest-paid banker last year was Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, with $22.8 million. Charlotte sees him fairly regularly as he checks out his bank’s East Cost hub. He lives in San Francisco.

Neither of Bank of America’s top two earners lives in Charlotte, either. Co-Chief Operating Officer Tom Montag, who made $14.5 million, lives in New York City. CEO Brian Moynihan, paid $12 million last year, lives in Boston.

Andrew writes about banking for the Observer.
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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

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