Why Wells Is Going to Have a Swell 2016


Today, Goldman Sachs & Co. issued an influential “buy” investment rating for Wells Fargo & Co.

But the reasoning for it seems a bit offline to what Wells sees as its best opportunity in 2016: wealth management.

Goldman analyst Richard Ramsden, in issuing the “buy” rating today, cited as the reason why the bank will be a “liftoff winner” this year, with a stock climb of perhaps 20%, Well’s relative insulation from the Federal Reserve’s tightening monetary policy.

Yet, neither retail banking nor lending are at the top of Wells Fargo & Co.‘s list of business priorities for 2016. No, that distinction belongs to wealth management.

John Stumpf, the megabank’s CEO, quietly disclosed recently (at a meeting run by Ramsden, in fact) that “The biggest opportunity Wells Fargo has is in the wealth and investment management.”

Stumpf’s logic runs like this: Wells has a wealth management business today that “just could be a whole lot bigger.” The bank has about 11% of the “operational transaction deposits” in the nation, which is remarkable in and of itself. But Stumpf acknowledges that the bank owns relatively few CDs and manages 1% to 2% of the wealth in the United States.

In other words, Wells holds a lot of money, but doesn’t get the job of investing and managing it.

Stumpf calls this “a huge opportunity.” When the first three quarters of 2015 are annualized, Wells’s wealth management business earned $2.5 billion after-tax, for a margin of more than 25%. Plus, 23% of Well’s noninterest income (i.e. fee income) comes from wealth management. The closest rate to that is mortgage at 10%. In other words, wealth management is a lucrative business in several ways.

And it could be bigger, a lot bigger. Stumpf said at the closed investor meeting organized by Goldman.

“It’s a very, very good business, but it could be a number of factors times that,” he said. “So we have a lot of things going on in that business. The emerging affluent is where we think the biggest opportunity is, but certainly the affluent with our 15,000 Wells Fargo advisors and our Abbot Downing, which is our family wealth business.”

There does not appear to be a fintech solution at the center of this strategy, however. Rather, Wells seems to be looking strictly at its market penetration in wealth management, and seems untapped potential.

Whatever the reasoning, the “buy” label has been affixed to Wells.

Wells Fargo has a market capitalization of nearly $256 billion.

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