Monday, March 31, 2014

SEC lawsuit against Bank of America should proceed, judge says

A federal judge in Charlotte recommended Monday allowing a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit against Bank of America over prime mortgages to proceed.

Last year, in similar lawsuits, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil complaints against the Charlotte-based bank, accusing it of misleading investors who thought securities were backed by prime mortgage loans – those with a higher credit quality – when they were actually much riskier.

Last week, the magistrate judge, David Cayer, recommended dismissal of the Justice Department's lawsuit. The Justice Department said five investors, including Wachovia Bank, bought roughly $850 million worth of the securities from Bank of America in early 2008. Federal officials claim that, as of June, at least 23 percent of the 1,191 securitized mortgages had defaulted or were delinquent.

Cayer's recommendation last week was viewed as a potential setback for government efforts to go after fraud in the sale of mortgage-backed securities.

A magistrate judge can be assigned to make a recommendation on a lawsuit for the judge who is officially presiding over the case. U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn in Charlotte will ultimately decide whether to follow Cayer's recommendations.

"We’re reviewing the magistrate judge's recommendation carefully," Bank of America spokesman Lawrence Grayson said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Aquesta Bank forms bank holding company

Cornelius-based Aquesta Bank said Monday it has formed a bank holding company to give it more flexibility in financing, a more efficient capital structure and an easier path to acquiring other companies.

Aquesta Financial Holdings Inc. will have the ticker symbol AQFH and also include the bank's insurance unit, Aquesta Insurance Services Inc.

Shareholders of Aquesta Bank will now have an equivalent ownership stake in the holding company. Shares will still trade on the OTC Exchange.

The Federal Reserve signed off on the change, and Aquesta shareholders have already approved it.

Bank of America settles reverse mortgage claims with HUD

Bank of America has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over claims that the bank failed to detect that a borrower did not qualify for a government-backed reverse mortgage loan.

Under terms of the settlement, announced Monday by HUD’s inspector general’s office, the Charlotte-based bank will cover any future losses on the loan, protecting HUD against any losses. The bank did not admit wrongdoing by entering into the settlement.

The settlement followed an audit by the inspector general’s office, which reviewed HUD’s oversight of the reverse mortgage program.

Among the findings was one woman who obtained a reverse mortgage from Bank of America even though she already had a reverse mortgage for a second property. That violated HUD’s rules barring reverse-mortgage borrowers from owning more than one principal residence at a time.

Bank of America had “sufficient information” to determine that the second property was not the borrower’s principal residence, the inspector general’s office said in a memo.

The settlement was reached in December, according to a bank spokesman.

Bank of America exited the reverse mortgage business in 2011 to focus on its core mortgage operations.

Patrick McHenry to lead hearing on alleged CFPB discrimination

Rep. Patrick McHenry will hear testimony this week on alleged discrimination and retaliation within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created in response to the financial crisis.

On Wednesday, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee will hold the hearing and hear from a CFPB whistleblower. McHenry is chairman of the subcommittee.

The hearing comes amid allegations that the bureau's managers have given higher scores on performance evaluations to white employees than minorities. The scores are used to award raises and bonuses.

American Banker reported on the alleged discrimination this month. In addition, morale at the bureau is poor and management has been accused of favoring white men and creating a hostile work environment, the publication said it found after interviewing a dozen current and former CFPB staffers.

McHenry, whose district runs just west of the Catawba River to Asheville to the east, said the CFPB refused to send anyone to testify at the hearing.

“Discrimination and retaliation are unacceptable," McHenry said in a statement. "It’s unfortunate and deeply troubling that the CFPB refuses to answer questions about these allegations, particularly when the bureau’s grounds for doing so are patently frivolous in light of the fact that their employee is voluntarily appearing to tell her story.

"The hearing will go forward, with or without the CFPB’s participation.”

The CFPB could not be immediately reached for comment. Here's the response American Banker said it received:

CFPB spokesman Sam Gilford says the agency is still analyzing the performance evaluation data and indicated that it's preliminary and could change "depending on the outcome of pending reviews and appeals."  
"The CFPB is committed to fairness and equity in the workplace as well as the marketplace," Gilford said. "Just as we often remind lenders that strong compliance management systems are critical to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws, the bureau has taken a compliance management approach in monitoring and evaluating its own performance rating process."
McHenry, a Republican, has been critical of the CFPB before. In July, he said the bureau's structure was flawed and lacked accountability to Congress and the American people.

Friday, March 28, 2014

BB&T Insurance buying Carolina firm

BB&T Insurance said it's boosted its presence on the Carolina coasts by acquiring Woodbury & Co., based in Wilmington and Myrtle Beach.

Woodbury, founded in 1932, has more than 50 employees and offers commercial property insurance, personal insurance and employee benefits. The deal is expected to close in April.

"We could not be more pleased to welcome one of the oldest and most highly regarded agencies in the Southeast to our team," said BB&T Insurance Holdings Chairman and CEO Wade Reece said in a statement.

BANK OF AMERICA RELEASES ANNUAL REPORT: CEO Brian Moynihan says 2013 was the year the bank's earnings power began to shine through more clearly. He also says employees are full of energy and optimism about the future of the bank.

DECISIONPOINT ADVISES ON ACQUISITION: The Charlotte firm that advises tech companies on deals said this week that its client Software Management Inc. has been acquired by Tucson-based Simpleview. Software Management provided tech solutions for destination marketing companies.

MIKE MAYO STILL BEARISH ON BOFA: The well-known CLSA analyst said on CNBC he's still not comfortable with the bank's legal risk and its positioning in the industry. He admits he's been on the wrong side of the stock for the past few years, though.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Analysts have mixed reactions to Bank of America stress test results

Bank of America’s performance in the Federal Reserve’s stress tests last week has led to a range of reactions from analysts who rate the stock.

Atlantic Equities has downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "overweight."

"The downgrade of BAC is driven by strong price performance over the past year bringing it close to our target price but also weakness in FICC and poor performance in the stress test," Atlantic Equities said.

Contrast that with the reaction of Citigroup analyst Keith Horowitz, who stuck with his "buy" rating for the stock.

But Bank of America’s performance in the tests did cause Horowitz to revise expectations for how much the bank might raise its dividend or how much in stocks it might buy back.

Before the stress test, Horowitz said, it was expected that the bank will seek Fed approval to raise its 1-cent dividend by 3 cents and buy back $5 billion in stock. But, he said, based on the stress test results, those expectations “look a tad bit too high."

Bank of America, and other big lenders, are expected to announce Wednesday afternoon whether the Fed will allow them to return capital to shareholders in the form of dividend increases or stock repurchases. It's anyone's guess as to which, if any, of those options Bank of America is seeking approval for.

The bank's dividend has been stuck at 1 cent per share per quarter since the financial crisis.

This year's stress tests results showed that Bank of America, Wells Fargo and 27 other major U.S. lenders would meet federal capital requirements in a hypothetical economic crisis.

But Charlotte-based Bank of America posted the lowest minimum capital ratio among big banks. The Fed said the bank’s minimum capital ratio would drop to 5.9 percent in a severe economic crisis. The figure is above regulators’ 5 percent minimum buffer for top-tier capital.

Mobile bankers rapidly adopting check-deposit technology

It seems like every bank is now offering its customers the ability to take a picture of a check to deposit it in their account. And it's now growing increasingly clear that people really like the technology, if a Federal Reserve report Tuesday is any indication.

Nearly 40 percent of people who use mobile banking reported using mobile check deposit features last year, up significantly from the 21 percent who said they did in 2012. The jump comes as banks big and small have rolled out the technology to their mobile applications. Bank of America did so in summer 2012, and Wells Fargo later that year. The smaller NewDominion Bank offered it in early 2013, and now even some credit unions offer it.

That increase in adoption was one finding in the Federal Reserve's report on mobile financial services.

A few other highlights:

  • 17 percent of smartphone users have made a payment using their phones at the point of sale, up from 6 percent in 2012.
  • The percentage of people using mobile banking rose slowly, to 33 percent from 28 percent.
  • People are using mobile  banking less frequently, at four times per month compared with six times per month.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Report: Wells Fargo, other banks vary interest rates by market

Wells Fargo and two other major U.S. banks pay higher interest rates for savings accounts in some markets than in others, according to a report released Monday.

The report by Wallet Hub examined interest rates at 10 big U.S. banks. It found that Wells Fargo, Capital One Financial Corp. and Citigroup were the only lenders of the 10 that vary interest rates by market.

At San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which has East Coast headquarters in Charlotte, the three-month promotional interest rate, 0.08 percent, for an account with a $1,000 balance is the same in most of its markets.

But Wells Fargo pays roughly double that in Jacksonville, Fla., and 18 times more in Los Angeles, where the rate is as high as 1.5 percent, the report showed.

A look other Wallet Hub findings:

  • Capital One's 12-month promotional rate for a $1,000 balance is the lowest in New Orleans, at 0.40 percent. It pays double that in New York and Newark, N.J., the markets where its rate is highest.
  • Citibank's standard savings account interest rate is as low as 0.05 percent in Illinois, Maryland and Washington, D.C., on accounts with a $10,000 balance. Citibank's highest rate for the same account is 0.10 percent in Delaware, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. 
"Most people expect small community banks to operate a bit differently than big national banks. There’s certainly rhyme to that reason, but we also tend to assume those mega-banks offer standardized national rates, regardless of where their customers happen to live. That part, interestingly enough, isn't quite true," Wallet Hub said in issuing the report.

Of the 10 banks, which include Bank of America, the average standard annual percentage rate for a savings account is 0.036 across 50 cities.

Charlotte's rate comes in below that, at 0.025 percent.

The lowest average annual percentage rates can be found in Detroit; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Oklahoma City. Rates are highest in Boston; Burlington, Vt.; Houston; and New Orleans.

No regional variation was found in checking account interest rates among any of the banks.

Capital One, Citigroup and Wells Fargo did not immediately provide comment.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wall Street sticking with estimates of Bank of America's dividend

After Bank of America's performance in the Federal Reserve's annual stress test, analysts are investors are trying to read the tea leaves on what the Charlotte bank will do with its dividend.

The Fed published its results Thursday, showing that Bank of America would keep its capital levels above the regulatory minimum during a severe economic downturn. But the results came in below its big bank peers, and significantly below Bank of America's own internal projections.

Analysts have been predicting a significant increase to Bank of America's dividend, which has been stuck at a penny per share each quarter since the financial crisis. They're largely sticking to the prediction Friday, but saying the situation has become a bit more murky.

UPDATE: The Federal Reserve issued corrected stress test results on Friday, saying it miscalculated. The new figures knocked Bank of America's capital ratio from 6 percent to 5.9 percent, further clouding the picture.

Here's a sampling from research reports published Friday. Keep in mind, the consensus estimate was an increase in quarterly dividend to 5 cents per share.

  • KBW analysts are still predicting a quarterly dividend increase to about 5 cents per share. Their report says they don't like to pick out "losers" in the process because that could be "overly negative," but mentioned Bank of America in that category.
  • Barclays analysts also predicted a 5 cents per share quarterly dividend last week. But their report Friday says that level of payout might be in jeopardy. Using their models, Barclays calculated that Bank of America would fall below the 5 percent Tier 1 common equity ratio in the Fed's hypothetical scenario should they actually have that large a dividend. 
  • Credit Suisse analyst Moshe Orenbuch said in a note that Bank of America may have to revise and resubmit its capital plan based on Thursday's results, according to Bloomberg.
  • Wells Fargo analysts are predicting a $2 billion total common stock dividend payout in the coming year. That would be a rise from about $450 million this year, and represent a roughly 5 cent per quarter dividend based on Bank of America's outstanding share count.
Bank of America shares fell 2 percent in Friday trading, closing at $17.56.

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Former CommunityOne VP enters into consent order

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency made public Friday a consent order with a former CommunityOne Bank vice president that alleges he lent to customers without authorization.

Vincent F. Bateman, who was a vice president of the bank between 2003 and 2011, did not admit or deny wrongdoing by signing the consent order.

In the order, the OCC says Bateman extended credit to customers without the proper approval and in a way that violated the bank's policies, and says he made "false statements" to the bank about the credit. The order also says Bateman "misapplied the assets of bank customers" to cover up his actions.

Bateman left the bank the month before the parent companies of CommunityOne and Bank of Granite were pushed together in a merger and $310 million recapitalization that brought both banks from the brink of failure.

Charlotte-based CommunityOne did not respond to a phone call for comment. Bateman, reached at his home in Laurinburg, declined to comment.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wells Fargo considered moving golf tournament

The golf event formerly known as the Wachovia Championship has just been renewed for another five-year run at Quail Hollow Club. But that wasn't always a sure bet.

Amid a celebration of the contract extension Wednesday, Wells Fargo's Charlotte region president Kendall Alley said the bank had a long decision-making process before committing the Wells Fargo Championship to Charlotte.

First, the bank had to decide whether it was worth it to keep its name attached. When that came out in the affirmative, the bank looked at a number of cities with a large Wells presence -- like Minneapolis, San Francisco, or St. Louis.

Because of the early May timing, Wells figured the Southeast was the best bet. The bank considered cities like Atlanta before deciding to stay in the Queen City.

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BofA said to cut trading, investment banking jobs

Bank of America is cutting jobs in its global trading and investment banking divisions, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, citing people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The Charlotte-based bank declined to comment on the Bloomberg story. According to the report, one of the people, who asked to remain anonymous, said the dismissals will affect less than 5 percent of the employees in the units.

Bank of America has global trading and investment banking employees in Charlotte, although the majority of its employees in those divisions are in New York. The divisions fall under co-Chief Operating Officer Thomas Montag, who is also based in New York.

Montag is head of the bank's businesses that serve companies and institutional investors, including middle-market commercial and large corporate clients.

Montag was awarded $15.5 million in total compensation for his performance in 2013, according to a securities filing this month. That was up from $14.5 million the year before. It's also higher than CEO Brian Moynihan's $14 million in overall compensation for his performance in 2013.

The job cuts come as the bank has been slashing employees as it seeks to trim expenses under its Project New BAC initiative. At the end of last year, the bank had approximately 242,000 full-time equivalent employees, down nearly 10 percent from the year before, according to securities filings.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Carlos Evans to retire from Wells Fargo

Carlos Evans, a high-ranking Charlotte Wells Fargo executive and former United Way chairman, is retiring May 31, the bank said Tuesday.

A holdover from Wachovia, where he was head of wholesale banking, Evans joined Wells Fargo when it acquired the Charlotte-based lender in 2008. He is currently the Charlotte-based head of commercial banking for Wells Fargo’s Eastern U.S. operations.

In the fall of 2008, Evans provided the Observer with a firsthand account of the “silent run” on Wachovia’s deposits that led to its eventual sale to Wells Fargo amid concerns about its financial stability.
“When Congress failed to pass the ($700 billion bailout) proposal, when (Washington Mutual) collapsed, you could see the money flowing,” he told the Observer at the time. “My computer screen was lighting up. … You go from being weakened to in trouble in a matter of days. I don’t think people understand how quickly events unfolded.”

Around the time of the Wachovia turmoil, Evans also agreed to be chairman of the United Way of Central Carolinas, which was rocked by the controversy surrounding the $1.2 million in salary and benefits paid to its former CEO. Evans served on United Way’s board until the end of 2009.

“I’m really not sure if United Way would be here today were it not for Carlos,” said Jane McIntyre, executive director of the United Way of Central Carolinas. “He really stepped up,” she said. “He didn’t have any control over the Wachovia/Wells Fargo situation. But down at United Way, he could actually try to work hard to make a difference.”

At Wells Fargo, Evans oversees the operation that serves Eastern U.S. middle-market businesses, meaning those with annual sales between about $20 million and about $1 billion. Evans also has oversight of government and institutional banking for Wells Fargo nationally.

Evans helped make the Wachovia merger a success, Perry Pelos, the head of commercial banking for Wells Fargo, said in an email to employees late Tuesday afternoon.

“During that time, he was instrumental in the successful migration of our customers and team members to Wells Fargo.”

Evans lives in Charlotte and has a residence in Charleston, S.C.

Monday, March 17, 2014

BofA 12th on list of 500 most valuable brands

Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. bank, is the 12th most valuable brand in the U.S., according to a report released Monday.

The brand of the Charlotte-based bank is worth $27 billion, 19 percent higher than a year ago, the ranking by brand consultant Brand Finance shows. The bank's brand was also ranked higher than that of Citigroup, the third-largest U.S. bank, and JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest U.S. bank.

The increase comes after Bank of America reported that 2013 was its most profitable year since 2007. The increase also comes as the bank's share price has been rising, which analysts say reflects investor belief that CEO Brian Moynihan is delivering on cost-cutting promises and cleaning up the bank’s legal issues.

Bank of America's brand value is behind that of No. 11 Wells Fargo, whose brand is worth $30.2 billion. Wells Fargo, headquartered in San Francisco, is the fourth-largest U.S. bank.

JPMorgan Chase and Co. is ranked 33rd, with a brand value of $14 billion, down from $13.8 billion in 2013. Last year, the New York-based bank announced billions of dollars in settlements, including a record $13 billion deal over mortgage-backed securities.

Citigroup, based in New York, has a brand value of $24.5 billion, up from $21.7 billion last year.

Bank of America's brand is the most valuable among North Carolina companies. No. 2 in the state: Lowe's, at $12.6 billion.

Apple is the most valuable brand in the nation, at $104.7 billion.

BofA sponsors tech awards as it competes for IT talent

Bank of America, at an event in Charlotte this past weekend, honored 35 female high school students for their achievements in computing and technology.

The bank’s ongoing sponsorship of the event comes at a time when the financial sector is trying to compete with other industries for top tech talent.

Since 2008, the Charlotte bank has been the national sponsor of the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Aspirations in Computing Award. A ceremony for this year’s winners was held Saturday at the Charlotte Ritz-Carlton.

The event helps the students as they pursue careers in the tech industry (each winner receives $500, a laptop and the opportunity to meet IT leaders at Bank of America ).

But the bank’s involvement in the event also has the potential to help it fill IT jobs with young, fresh-minded tech workers. As a report this year from consulting firm Oliver Wyman points out, the financial services industry has “been slow” to attract and grow tech employees as the industry’s digital presence increases.

The financial sector, the report says, has had trouble competing for such talent with “information” businesses, such as Google and Apple.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that Denise Menelly, head of Shared Service Operations for Bank of America, calls Aspirations in Computing “one of the most important” events the bank sponsors.

In an interview with the Observer, Menelly said there’s “a disconnect” between the supply of talented people in technology and the growing need for those employees across various industries, not just banking. As a result, the competition for such employees is growing, too, she said.

Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. bank, has a major technology operation that employs roughly 100,000 people worldwide. In January, CEO Brian Moynihan said the company spends $3 billion a year on technology development, such as for mobile banking.

Menelly said Bank of America needs tech workers who can help the bank come up with products and services that “we can’t even anticipate today.” That creates a need, she said, for “fresh minds thinking differently.”

Even as it looks for tech talent, the bank has made cuts in its technology work force. In January, that bank disclosed layoffs of an undisclosed number of tech workers, including some in Charlotte.

According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women account for only 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences. Menelly said getting young women involved in computer science at an early age is critical to increasing the number who go on to have careers in technology.

The bank’s sponsorship of the event has helped it fill tech jobs. Menelly said the bank has also given some of the winners internships.

“Any time we can get our hands on them, we will,” she said. “I need talent.”

But as they try to lure talent, financial institutions also face an image problem, according to the Oliver Wyman report:

Financial services is a far less attractive career than it was, at least in the U.S. and Europe. Financial rewards are being reduced by lower returns, by new rules on compensation, and by relentless political and media scrutiny. The work is increasingly dominated by regulatory compliance and managing legal and headline risk, rather than growing the core business. Innovation is being stifled by product regulation and legal peril. And the prestige of the job is diminished. Many firms are culling “revenue seats”; employment growth now comes from compliance.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bank of America has a new point person at the Fed

Bank of America has a new point person at the Federal Reserve.

Jeremy Caldwell, who's been an examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond since 2000, has been promoted to vice president and the central point of contact with the Charlotte bank, the regulator said Friday. Caldwell has been on Bank of America's supervisory team for about five years, and works in Charlotte.

Caldwell started his career with the Richmond Fed before leaving for a two-year stint at BB&T as an internal auditor and equity analyst. He came back to the regulator in 2005.

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Wells Fargo splits with longtime ad agency

Wells Fargo has parted ways with the advertising agency that came up with the lender's current "Together We'll Go Far" slogan.

After 18 years as the San Francisco lender's ad agency of record, DDB has been replaced by BBDO. Both agencies are based in New York.

For BBDO, the deal comes after being dropped in 2012 by Bank of America, which made WPP its global agency of record. BBDO created Bank of America's "Bank of Opportunity" campaign.

BBDO has worked for major brands, including General Electric Co., Visa and Mooresville-based Lowe's.

"Wells Fargo is already one of the pre-eminent banking brands in the world, and we’re excited to bring our brand-building expertise in financial services to help them become not just the greatest banking brand, but one of the world’s greatest brands … period," Jim Lesser president and CEO of BBDO's San Francisco operation.

DDB could not be reached for comment. The company also is responsible for Wells Fargo TV ads rolled out last year that featured the Wright brothers and Rosa Parks.

Wells Fargo announced the shakeup this week. The lender also said firm MRM will continue to lead its digital advertising efforts. OMD and UM will continue to serve as media planners, advising Wells Fargo on when and where to advertise.

As for the "Together We'll Go Far" slogan, it remains to be seen how much farther it will go before being replaced.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Nonprofit lauds Bank of America for new checking account

Last week, Bank of America unveiled a new type of checking account that eliminates overdraft fees of any type in exchange for a $4.95 monthly payment. It's designed to cater to lower-income customers and provide an alternative to services like prepaid debit cards and check cashing.

Two nonprofit organizations under the same umbrella have now come out publicly to praise Bank of America for the plan.

The Center for Responsible Lending said Tuesday that the new checking account was "a more responsible approach to banking."

“CRL is heartened to see one of the nation’s largest banks continue to acknowledge the harmful effect of overdraft fees and offer a better structured and more predicable approach to accounts,” executive vice president Gary Kalman said in a statement. “This is an important step toward safe and fair banking practices.”

Self-Help Credit Union, which is affiliated with the Center for Responsible Lending, also applauded the new offering. It called the account "perhaps the best product available in the market today."

Martin Eakes, who is CEO of both organizations, is on the Bank of America National Community Advisory Council.

Neither organization mentioned the monthly fee, which cannot be waived. While free checking has become harder to come by, it is still available at some banks and credit unions.

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Wells Fargo unveils online magazine

Wells Fargo said Tuesday it has launched an online magazine to tout success stories that feature its employees.

What kinds of stories? For one, a feature story on Tuesday centered on a mortgage consultant in Iowa who says he pushed an elderly couple's car off some railroad tracks just in time to avoid catastrophe with an oncoming train.

The bank's move comes at a time when consumers are frequently taking to blogs or social media to unleash criticism about companies they've done business with or simply don't like.

But companies are no longer sitting idle for this digital bashing. Hostile comments on social media now receive responses from some companies, such as Bank of America. Throughout the day, the Charlotte-based bank replies to Tweets from disgruntled customers, asking if it can assist the customers with whatever issue they are worked up over.

Wells Fargo's new website also highlights the trend of companies using digital platforms to share with the public what they describe as their internal culture.

“Wells Fargo Stories opens a new window into the company’s vision and values,” Oscar Suris, the San Francisco lender's head of corporate communications, said in a press release. “Our team members live and breathe our culture every day to help our customers and communities. This journal features those experiences in a way that goes deeper than a tweet or ‘like’ can convey.”

Wells Fargo's new website caught the attention of, known for its commentary on financial headlines. Its take:

… It might have considered waiting until volume 10 or 13 before rolling out a story that involves speeding trains, an elderly couple, and A WELLS FARGO EMPLOYEE WHO POSSESSES SUPER-HUMAN STRENGTH, which will be difficult to top.

Will Bank of America's dividend quadruple?

In about two weeks, the Federal Reserve will release capital plan results for big U.S. banks, and perhaps none will be watched more closely than Bank of America's.

The Charlotte bank's dividend has been stuck at a penny per share each quarter since the financial crisis, but analysts are predicting that this will be the year that changes. CEO Brian Moynihan has been repeatedly asked about what the bank will ask regulators to approve, but he has consistently stayed silent. Moynihan memorably promised a dividend increase in 2011 that was rejected.

Analysts are now predicting the dividend rate could double or even quadruple, the Motley Fool reports. Independent bank analyst Nancy Bush told the Observer that she believes Bank of America will be approved to offer a 4 cent quarterly dividend, or 16 cents per share. That would be a roughly 1 percent dividend yield based on where shares have been trading lately.

"It's not anything that's going to make anybody go, 'wow,'" she says.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fewer Bank of America execs get stock awards

The number of Bank of America employees who were granted stock awards this year fell significantly from the year before, the bank disclosed Friday.

About 22,000 workers received equity awards for their performance in 2013, and are thus subject to "claw-back" provisions for misconduct, Bank of America said in its proxy filing. That's down from 27,000 the year before.

The number of workers deemed to be "risk takers," on the other hand, rose to 4,600 from 4,500. These executives can have their bonuses cut back if their performance doesn't measure up, the bank says.

The reasons for the changes in numbers are not disclosed. But they give a glimpse of how the bank is being transformed by years of cost-cutting and layoffs. Bank of America shed nearly 25,000 jobs last year, and has eliminated more than 40,000 since fall 2011.

Bankers who receive stock bonuses have enjoyed the rally in Bank of America stock over the past two years.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Uwharrie Capital returns to profit in 2013

Albemarle-based Uwharrie Capital Corp. said Friday that it swung back to profit in 2013, posting net income to shareholders of $151,000. The bank had a a loss of $241,000 the year before.

Asset quality improved over the course of the year, leading Uwharrie to write down $1.6 million for bad loans in 2013 versus $3 million the year before.

The bank's loan book shrunk by $21.8 million over the year. Uwharrie now has total assets of $517.3 million.

Uwharrie combined what were formerly known as Cabarrus Bank and Trust, Bank of Stanly and Anson Bank and Trust over the summer. The bank also paid back $10 million to the U.S. Treasury for bailout era investments made in the bank.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Former NationsBank executive Rusty Page joins Newport Board Group

A former NationsBank executive has joined professional services firm Newport Board Group as a partner in its Carolinas practice.

Rusty Page served as head of investor relations for Charlotte's NationsBank, which became Bank of America when it bought San Francisco-based BankAmerica in 1998. He later joined The Nasdaq Stock Market, where he was senior managing director until 2003.

Newport Board Group advises middle-market and private equity firms. The company has offices in 18 U.S. cities.

Page also serves on the board of Charlotte-based investment company Chanticleer Holdings, which owns and operates Hooters restaurants.

Wells Fargo creates healthcare banking group in Charlotte

Wells Fargo said Wednesday that it has created a banking team that will deal with large, for-profit healthcare companies.

The group will be based in Charlotte and headed by David Gillespie, a two-decade veteran of the bank who previously led the healthcare leveraged finance division under Wells Fargo Securities.

The new team will be under the bank's corporate banking unit but collaborate with investment bankers as needed, the bank said.

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Falfurrias Capital buys utility services company

Charlotte private equity firm Falfurrias Capital Partners said Wednesday that it has bought a utility services company as it continues to expand in the electric transmission and distribution industry.

The firm acquired Advanced Control Systems, a Norcross, Ga. company that builds and distributes electric management and control systems.

It will be combined with Charlotte-based Instrument Transformer Equipment Corp., which Falfurrias acquired last year, in the private equity firm's growing North American T&D Group. The name refers to transmission and distribution.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Falfurrias was founded by former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl and former Chief Financial Officer Mark Oken.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Succession Capital Partners opens Virginia office

Charlotte-based private equity firm Succession Capital Partners said Monday that it has opened an office in Norfolk, Va.

“With a lack of comparable services in the Virginia market, this expansion offers significant growth opportunities for SCP," Matt Malone, the company's managing partner, said in a statement.

Succession Capital Partners was founded in 2009. The firm provides money to buy out so-called microcap companies or to help them grow. Such companies have low capitalizations -- the total value of the company's stock. Such stocks usually trade in low volumes and are low-priced.

Succession Capital Partners also provides capital advisory and consulting services to small businesses. Its focus is on the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. The Charlotte office is at 212 S. Tryon St.

Malone is a former managing director for Dallas-based Hunt Private Equity Group. He helped that company open an office in Charlotte in 2006.

Wells Fargo names new head of supplier diversity

Wells Fargo said Monday it has a new executive heading the company's efforts to diversify the companies it contracts with, such as women- and minority-led firms.

Regina Edwards, head of corporate supplier diversity, will be based in Charlotte. She replaces Sonya Dukes, who was also based in Charlotte and left Wells Fargo to pursue other opportunities, the company said.

Edwards is responsible for helping the San Francisco-based lender expand its use of suppliers certified as minority, women, disadvantaged and small-business enterprises. Office supplies, security and property maintenance are examples of the types of products and services for which such firms might be used by Wells Fargo.

In 2012, the year for which most recent data is available, Wells Fargo spent $723 million with such businesses, including  lesbian-, gay-, bisexual- and transgender-led firms, according to data provided by the bank. The figure represented 7.24 percent of the bank's controllable spending, up from 6.9 percent the year before. The bank's goal is for the annual figure to be 10 percent.

Edwards will work in the Three Wells Fargo building in uptown and report to Greg Schmid, head of supply chain management for the bank.

Edwards' first day was Feb. 10. She previously worked in Atlanta for Capital One Financial Corp., where she held a leadership role in influencing supplier diversity strategy, Wells Fargo said.

Wells Fargo operates its East Coast hub in Charlotte.