Wells Fargo’s Wealth, Brokerage and Retirement (WBR) business reported growth in assets, revenue and profits in the fourth quarter, and the firm said a wealth management acquisition is still a possibility.
Net income for the division totaled $197 million, while revenue for the quarter in the division was $3.0 billion, up 15 percent from fourth quarter 2009, as higher asset-based revenues, brokerage transactional revenue and net interest income were partially offset by lower securities gains and other fees in the brokerage business.
WBR “is an increasingly important growth business for us, and an increasingly important source of cross-selling,” Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins said on a conference call with analysts. The division accounted for about 6 percent of Wells Fargo's overall profits and 14 percent of revenues for the quarter.
Meanwhile, Chairman and Chief Executive John Stumpf voiced guarded interest in possible wealth management acquisitions, repeating a theme he raised last month. “The biggest issue right now” is finishing the consolidation of Wachovia, Stumpf said, in response to a question from an analyst. “We’ve had opportunities to look at things that could or could not be interesting,” he added. “I’ve mentioned in the past we’ve had an interest in growing our insurance distribution business, and we’re doing a lot of things organically; we have some opportunities as that industry consolidates, and the wealth brokerage retirement business and asset management.”
Stumpf said he would welcome opportunistic possibilities, but that the firm doesn’t need to plug holes and there is a lot it can do organically. “There’s not a big gaping hole in our product suite or our menu that problematic for us today, either in geography or product.”
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The WBR unit of Wells Fargo includes Wells Fargo Advisors and its independent broker/dealer unit, Wells Fargo Financial Network. Fourth-quarter net income of $197 million was up $213 million from a year earlier, reflecting a settlement in 2009 with regulators. Under the deal, Wells agreed to repurchase auction-rate securities that it sold to investors before the market for the securities evaporated in 2008.
Meanwhile, WBR net income was down $59 million from the third quarter, but client assets in its retail brokerage business increased about 9 percent, to $1.2 trillion. The company said its managed account assets rose $38 billion, or 20 percent, from a year earlier.
Stumpf told analysts that this past weekend Wells Fargo had completed the systems integration of its retail brokerage business, something that would permit “robust trading” and also enable cross-selling of banking and wealth management products nationwide. The company said it had 15,188 financial advisors at year’s end, up by 100 from the end of the previous quarter.
For the fourth quarter, Wells Fargo had record net income of $3.4 billion, up 34 percent from a year earlier, on revenue of $21.5 billion.