Thursday, May 9, 2013

Wells Fargo sees need for more small-business bankers

Wells Fargo said it will increase the number of bankers who work with small businesses in its U.S. branches this year, after boosting its number of such specialists last year.

But the bank is not saying how many employees it plans to add or the markets where they will be deployed, leaving it unclear whether any of the hires will be made in the Charlotte region.

From March 2012 to this past March, Wells Fargo’s Carolinas branches added 118 bankers whose focus includes working with small businesses, spokesman Josh Dunn said.

Wells Fargo’s announcement, made this week, comes after the bank reported that its first-quarter business-banking activity strengthened compared with the same quarter the year before. Year over year, the bank saw an uptick in business checking accounts and credit card activity and loans to small businesses.

According to the bank, it grew the number of bankers who work with consumers and small businesses in its U.S. branches by more than 1,500 from March 2012 to this past March. The bank said it was an increase of 5 percent.

Last year, Wells Fargo said it lent $16 billion to small businesses, an increase of about 30 percent from 2011. The bank defines small businesses as those with annual revenues of less than $20 million.

Wells is not the only big bank adding small-business specialists or reporting a rise in lending to such businesses.

In January, Bank of America said it had reached its goal of hiring more than 1,000 small-business bankers. The bank said it lent $8.7 billion to small businesses last year, 28 percent more than the year before. In its 2012 report, the bank said the 1,000 small-business bankers will “help bring our small-business expertise closer to our clients in local markets.”

Smaller banks expect to see a rise in small-business lending, too. Raleigh-based VantageSouth Bank is relocating its government guaranteed lending operation from Salisbury to Charlotte as it plans for an increase in Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture Business and Industry program lending.

Jason Ferreira, a Wells Fargo personal banker who works in Charlotte, said one driver of small-business lending at his branch has been middle-aged people starting businesses, such as consulting firms. This year, he said, he expects his branch to see as much as a 25 percent increase in small-business activity over 2012, thanks to rising demand for small-business loans.

“I can tell you from my experience that the appetite is huge right now,” said Ferreira, who works in a branch on Rea Road.

The bank, though, has recently raised questions about the demand for small-business loans. In its 2012 report, Wells Fargo said applications for such loans “remained below what we have typically seen at this stage of an economic recovery.”

In North Carolina, Wells Fargo’s U.S. Small Business Administration lending surpasses that of all other banks. From October to the end of April, Wells Fargo’s SBA loans totaled $25.2 million, according to the SBA.