Regional Report Charlotte October 2010
It takes time to change a name that’s had 131 years to make its marque, especially one so venerated in Tar Heel business. Two years after its acquisition by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., Wachovia still has its own website and branches, though signs and logos mention that it is “A Wells Fargo Company.” Full conversion of its branches, once stretching coast to coast, isn’t expected until the end of next year. North Carolina is last on the list.
But the new parent is raising its profile in what had been Wachovia Corp.’s headquarters since 2001, when First Union Corp. merged with the Winston-Salem-based company and took its name. In August, Wells Fargo put its name on the golf tournament Wachovia started in 2003 — and which Wells Fargo had held at arm’s length since their merger at the end of 2008. The Charlotte bank’s near failure, which led to it being sold at a bargain price, had rankled many, especially Wachovia shareholders. With regulators tightening scrutiny in the wake of the financial meltdown and taxpayers, stuck with the bill for bailing out troubled banks, bristling at any hint of extravagance, Wells Fargo executives felt the event “could send mixed signals about our priorities to many of our stakeholders.”
In 2009, the Wachovia Championship became the Quail Hollow Championship, after its host country club. Wells Fargo honored Wachovia’s financial commitment but vowed it would not use the tournament for “client entertainment events.” Now, with concerns about such mixed signals quieted, the company is embracing the tournament, recently renamed the Wells Fargo Championship. “That’s a good step in promulgating the brand in this area, probably part of the final stage of rebranding in the Carolinas,” says Tony Plath, an associate professor of finance at UNC Charlotte.
The company is touting itself in the Queen City in other ways, launching a local chapter of Wells Fargo Volunteers, modeled after the old Wachovia program, spokeswoman Christine Shaw says. “We have been looking at the great ‘best practices’ of Wachovia, and this was one that Wells Fargo wanted to adopt.” In early September, it revealed plans for a museum in Charlotte showcasing Wells Fargo history. It has nine others around the country. The transition is taking place slowly so not to confuse customers, Shaw says. And maybe by next year, the wounds of Wachovia’s waning will have healed. “We are the most visible and emotionally sensitive market,” Plath says. “And that’s why they are doing us last.”
Union National chooses to eschew the sick banks
Union National Corp., started earlier this year by former Queen City bank executives to buy failed and failing banks from regulators, withdrew its application for a federal charter (Regional Report, August). Instead, it will pursue investments in healthier banks. The move doesn’t surprise Tony Plath, associate professor of finance at UNC Charlotte. With so many banks struggling in the wake of the national financial crisis, bargain hunters are on the prowl. “The market for acquiring banks is becoming saturated with buyers and potential buyers.” Two other Charlotte-based companies are still eyeing distressed banks. Charlotte-based North American Financial Holdings Inc., chartered earlier this year, bought three in Florida and South Carolina. It also has reached an agreement to take control of another Florida bank. The other group, Blue Ridge Holdings Inc., is awaiting its charter.