(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions
expressed are his own.)
By Jeffrey Goldfarb
NEW YORK, May 16 (Reuters Breakingviews) - John Stumpf may
be easing his way onto the soapbox. The Wells Fargo (WFC.N)
chief executive runs the biggest U.S. bank by market value, at
$210 billion, but has kept a lower profile than many of his
peers. Lately, though, he has been critiquing regulation more,
tiptoeing into a role filled until recently by JPMorgan (JPM.N)
boss Jamie Dimon.
Wells Fargo, with its Midwestern roots and San Francisco
headquarters where Old West stagecoaches are displayed,
deliberately distances itself from the image of the slick East
Coast banker. "I'm not one of you New York guys with your fancy
products," Chairman Dick Kovacevich said at a 2008 gathering of
bank bosses as a massive bailout took shape, according to the
book "Too Big To Fail."
Even after acquiring Wachovia and its investment bank,
Stumpf has carried on the tradition of his predecessor,
maintaining a healthy separation – at least publicly – from
policy debates the other side of the country. It's evident in
his yearly letter to shareholders, a forum commonly used by
corporate chieftains to express their viewpoints. In JPMorgan's
2011 annual report, for example, Dimon devoted eight of his 38
pages to global regulation. Stumpf barely mentioned the subject
in a missive that was only eight pages total.
Now, though, Stumpf appears to be trying on the statesman
hat for size. Quarterly earnings calls are another opportunity
for a bank chief to take a stand. Stumpf has rarely used his for
that purpose, but during Wells Fargo's latest, he wrapped up his
prepared introductory remarks with an attack on the growing
outcry for new rules targeting big banks. "Some claim that we
receive a subsidy or have an unfair advantage from being
perceived as too big to fail," Stumpf said. "We disagree."
Stumpf may feel a greater responsibility as he serves a
one-year term – the first for a Wells Fargo boss – as chairman
of the Financial Services Roundtable lobbying group. It also
wouldn't be surprising if industry colleagues wanted Stumpf to
speak up. Dimon has been quieter since the failures associated
with JPMorgan's "London Whale" losses came to light and is
fighting a shareholder move to split the chairman and CEO roles.
Citigroup's (C.N) Michael Corbat is new in the job. Lloyd
Blankfein is carefully rehabilitating Goldman Sachs' (GS.N)
What's more, Wells Fargo is besting large U.S. rivals in
terms of return on equity and price-to-book valuation. That
makes Stumpf the most credible bank CEO on the stump.
SIGN UP FOR BREAKINGVIEWS EMAIL ALERTS:
- Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf addressed the
issue of some banks being "too big to fail" during the bank's
latest quarterly earnings conference call with analysts.
- "We do not need additional legislation aimed at big
banks," he said on April 12. "Important and significant
regulatory changes have been made since the financial crisis and
we need to give existing regulations a chance to work especially
now when all of our energy should be focused on creating growth
and new jobs."
- Wells Fargo first-quarter earnings call transcript
JPMorgan vs JPMorgan [ID:nL2N0CZ0GA]
Deep Wells [ID:nL1E9CB2F2]
- For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers
can click on [GOLDFARB/]
(Editing by Richard Beales and Martin Langfield)
Keywords: BREAKINGVIEWS WELLSFARGO/
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