Wells Fargo, reeling from a series of scandals, is failing to cash in on the booming American economy.
America’s third-largest bank revealed on Friday that its deposits shrank by $40 billion, or 3%, over the past year because consumers and businesses held lower balances.
Wells Fargo is missing out on an opportunity to grow its business because of the damage done to its brand and a conservative approach to commercial loans, CFRA analyst Ken Leon wrote to clients.
But Wells Fargo executives downplayed concerns about the bank’s standing with the broader public.
“Our relationship with customers is actually on really good footing,” John Shrewsberry, Wells Fargo’s chief financial officer, told reporters.
Shrewsberry pointed to growth in the number of active checking account customers and a five-year high in customer retention.
However, Wells Fargo conceded that the scandals are hurting its government and institutional banking division.
“It’s just a little bit more politically charged environment in terms of how we compete. Having reputation issues has made it harder for that team,” Shrewsberry said.
The news wasn’t all bad for Wells Fargo. The bank’s profit soared by 33% to $6 billion. The bottom line was juiced by the corporate tax cut, which lifted profit by $537 million.
Responding to criticism from Wall Street, Wells Fargo also successfully cut costs. Noninterest expenses were slashed by $299 million, or 7%, due in part by selling off an insurance business as well as a shareholder service.
Wells Fargo is aiming to make even deeper cuts. The bank recently announced plans to reduce as many as 26,500 jobs over three years in response to the rise of online banking and soaring legal bills.
Despite the austerity measures, Wells Fargo is spending heavily on share buybacks to try to rejuvenate its slumping share price. Wells Fargo said it repurchased $6.8 billion of stock last quarter, tripling what it did last year.
Wells Fargo is still grappling with life under the unprecedented asset cap imposed by the Federal Reserve earlier this year for “widespread consumer abuse” by the bank. The Fed cited the millions of fake accounts opened by Wells Fargo, as well as the thousands of borrowers charged for auto insurance they didn’t need and homebuyers hit with mortgage fees they didn’t deserve.
The Fed has said it won’t lift the asset cap until it’s satisfied Wells Fargo has cleaned up its act. Wells Fargo said on Friday that despite “very constructive” talks with regulators, the bank is planning to operate under the sanctions “through the first part of next year.”
Deposits shrink even as rivals grow
Wells Fargo said its average deposits fell by 3% from a year ago to $1.3 trillion. The bank cited lower corporate deposits caused in part by efforts taken to “manage to the asset cap.”
But it wasn’t just about the sanctions from the Fed. Wells Fargo said its average consumer and small business banking deposits fell by 2% over the past year to $743.5 billion. The bank did not blame reputation issues.
Instead, Wells Fargo said “consumers continued to move excess liquidity to higher-rated alternatives.” In other words, Americans moved money into stocks, mutual funds and money market funds that offer high returns.
Yet Wells Fargo’s rivals did not appear to suffer the same fate. Citigroup’s deposits climbed by 4% to $1 trillion. Excluding currency fluctuations in Citi’s international business, deposits would have been up by 5%.
JPMorgan’s average deposits jumped by 4% to $1.5 trillion. “We continue to grow deposits faster than the industry, even as the pace slows with rising rates,” JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon said in a statement.
Wells Fargo also said it paid higher rates on the deposits it does have. Average deposit costs nearly doubled from a year ago. The higher rates are a reflection of the Federal Reserve’s rate hikes and increased competition, especially from online lenders.
Loans under pressure
The good news is that Wells Fargo’s customer base is not shrinking. The number of customers who actively use their checking account rose nearly 2% from a year ago. Active online and mobile customers increased 4%.
Wells Fargo highlighted steps it has taken to improve customer satisfaction, including eliminating service fees for teens and young adults.
“I’m confident that these changes are building a better Wells Fargo for all of our stakeholders,” said CEO Tim Sloan.
Still, there are signs that Wells Fargo’s deposits will remain under pressure due to rising frustration among its customers. Consulting firm cg42 released a report this week projecting Wells Fargo will likely lose $93 billion in deposits over the next year because its customers are fed up with the cascade of scandals.
An exodus of customers could hurt Wells Fargo’s ability to make money off loans. The bank’s mortgage originations fell 22% last quarter to $46 billion. However, auto loans jumped by 10%.
JPMorgan and Citi both ramped up lending last quarter.