Wells Fargo's private bank chief said the company continues to add to its ranks of private bankers but has little interest in paying top dollar, even as an industry recruiting frenzy drives up the cost of star advisers.
"We're not paying major league free agent money for career .220 hitters," Jay Welker, executive vice president of the San Francisco-based bank's wealth management group, said at the Reuters Global Private Banking Summit in New York.
In April, Welker told Reuters the company planned to add up to 100 private bankers on the East Coast, with an expansion eye toward New York City. Wells Fargo, with its roots in the West, intends to bulk up the New York City presence it gained when it acquired Wachovia in 2008.
Welker — who said he is not obsessed with weekly recruiting numbers and did not give specifics — said Wells Fargo has more new hires than departures so far this year.
As of April, it had roughly 800 private bankers across the United States.
He said the company's expansion of its New York City office is on track, and it is interested in becoming a larger competitor for the city's wealthy.
"We've been fortunate to attract good talent," he said. "We continue to be excited about it. It's not an under-banked market, but I think we have something to add."
U.S. banks have been scrambling to court private bankers who work with the super rich, fueling a frenzy of recruiting during the last year. Banks are hungry to add wealthy clients — and the management fees that come with wealth advice — as their overall profits have sagged in a weak U.S. economy.
Welker said Wells Fargo is looking to recruit only private bankers who generate large amounts of revenue. It is willing to lose a less-productive banker to a rival if it can recruit a more productive replacement, he said.
"If someone wants to recruit a mid-level player for AAA money, I'm OK with that," he said, alluding the triple-A levels of baseball's minor leagues.
The increasingly expensive recruiting wars are driven by the need at some firms to bolster private banking departments that suffered waves of departures following the 2008 financial crisis, he said.
"Some firms have been pretty decimated and they're looking to rebuild," he said. "They're paying the highest prices because they have to."
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