Drum Roll.....The big winner from the financial crisis


Drum Roll…..The big winner from the financial crisis

Drum Roll…..The big winner from the financial crisis

The Economist-

AS THE dust settles on an extraordinary period of financial tumult, which reached its zenith five years ago this week with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, two banks vie for the title of the world’s biggest by market capitalisation. One is Wells Fargo, a San Francisco-based institution; the other is China’s state-owned ICBC. It says something about the state of global finance that both are largely domestic, conventional lenders, and that both are buoyed and buffeted by the policies of their respective governments.

Some of Wells’s success is serendipitous. The business model that it has refined since its merger with, and managerial takeover by, Minnesota-based Norwest in 1998 left it perfectly placed to benefit from the crisis and its aftermath. Wells went into the bust with a strong but limited franchise encompassing the western half of America and focused on the prosaic business of cross-selling multiple products from a “store” (Wells-speak for a branch). It did not have a big capital-markets business to blow it up. Simply by remaining solvent, a tribute to years of careful management, it was in a position to emerge from the turmoil with a business covering the other half of the country, too.

But Wells has also made plenty of savvy decisions. In August 2008 it decided not to buy Countrywide, which had been the country’s largest mortgage underwriter and, as Bank of America would discover, a sinkhole for bad loans and litigation. Two months later, as panic consumed the markets, it gazumped Citigroup to acquire Wachovia, which had been assembled over decades of costly and disruptive mergers. It may have been the best bank acquisition ever. In a single move, Wells doubled its branch count and added the eastern half of the country. As John Stumpf, the chief executive, likes to point out, a Wells branch or ATM is now within two miles of half of America’s homes and half of its firms.


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