Wells Fargo’s Scharf puts brand-new focus on development

Three years into his period as Wells Fargo’s CEO, Charlie Scharf offered an abnormally in-depth appearance Tuesday at the bank’s tactical strategies, focusing more on methods to increase earnings than on chances to cut expenses.

Scharf, who signed up with the bank near the height of its continuing regulative difficulties, likewise acknowledged that he still invests over half of his time on compliance matters, even as he assessed modifications in the company’s executive culture.

Before Wells Fargo’s unauthorized-accounts scandal blew up in 2016, the business had actually a decentralized service design, with leaders of particular systems working out a great deal of autonomy. That design began to alter as early as 2017, and Scharf stated Tuesday that it is now gone.

“We’re probably several years behind what others have done in terms of just looking at the efficiency of their branch network,” Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf stated on Tuesday, “not just in terms of number of branches, but staffing inside those branches.”

Al Drago/Bloomberg

“We run the company as one,” he stated throughout remarks at Goldman Sachs’ yearly monetary services conference in New York City. “Those of you that followed Wells Fargo might have known that we used to talk about the federalist model, which basically meant that certain businesses could do whatever they want as long as they were performing well.”

Scharf stated the decentralized design might have when worked well, however it overlooked the advantages of interacting as a single business. As one example, he kept in mind that Wells Fargo’s customer bank utilized to be run completely independently from its wealth management system.

“When you look at the affluent customers that exist in the consumer branch,” Scharf stated, “we were treating them the same way as we were treating every other customer, not leveraging the strengths that we had in our wealth management business.”

In October, the $1.9 trillion-asset bank introduced Wells Fargo Premier, which provides banking, loaning and investing services to rich customers. 

As another example of how the bank’s service systems have actually ended up being more integrated, Scharf stated that Wells Fargo’s business banking system formerly offered a really little volume of items from the business’s business and financial investment banking system. “That’s changed dramatically, and that’s a significant opportunity,” Scharf stated.

Something else that’s altered considering that Scharf’s arrival at Wells Fargo in 2019, he stated, is its conference room culture. Scharf, a previous Jamie DImon protégé, stated that business executives now talk to each other in frank terms, which was not the case when he got here.

“We were a very polite place. No one was ever expected to push each other in meetings. It was always done a little more privately,” Scharf stated. “I don’t say confrontation, but there is a candor which we expect from the entire company that didn’t exist in this company before.”

In his remarks Tuesday, Scharf kept in mind that Wells continues to deal with liberating itself from numerous regulative permission orders. He did not use an amount of time for when the Federal Reserve Board will end the property cap that has actually obstructed the bank’s capability to grow for almost 5 years.

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Wells was dealing with pressure from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to pay $1 billion to settle numerous examinations into the mistreatment of customers. 

Schaft stated when he initially reached Wells — he was formerly the president at Bank of New York Mellon — he invested approximately two-thirds of his time on compliance concerns. “It’s less today, but not significantly less. I’d probably say it’s 50% to two-thirds of the time,” he stated.

For numerous years as Wells was swallowed up by scandal, business executives put more focus on cutting expenses than increasing profits. Though Scharf struck a rather various balance on Tuesday, he reemphasized that the business is far less effective than it needs to be. In specific, he indicated the bank’s branch network and its home loan service as locations where pruning is anticipated to continue.

“We’re probably several years behind what others have done in terms of just looking at the efficiency of their branch network — not just in terms of number of branches, but staffing inside those branches,” Scharf stated.

Wells Fargo has actually laid off workers in its home loan system this year as increasing rate of interest have crimped loan need. In July, Scharf stated that the bank was moving its focus in the home loan service, making existing consumers the primary focus, instead of looking for brand-new ones.

His remarks Tuesday struck a comparable note. “The home lending products are important to our customer base, but it is a very, very difficult business to run really well over a cycle,” Scharf stated. “So we’re committed to it, but it won’t look like what it looked like.”

But Scharf’s main message had to do with development chances that he stated were not the focus of Wells Fargo executives 4 or 5 years earlier. “We were focused on our financial results, but it was really less about the growth of the company. Today, when we look at it, we look at all the different lines of business, every one of them has opportunities to grow.”


A news media journalist always on the go, I've been published in major publications including VICE, The Atlantic, and TIME.

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