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Wells Fargo: A simple plan for the most competitive of markets

Understanding what Wells Fargo means to the wholesale banking industry is something of a riddle. This is a firm that ranked eighth for the first sixth months of 2013 in terms of all investment banking revenue for the Americas, ahead of such rivals as Deutsche Bank and Jefferies. In debt capital markets it ranks fourth, ahead of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Barclays, according to data from Dealogic.

So it comes as something of a shock when Euromoney points out this strength and chief executive John Stumpf immediately seeks to downplay his investment banking operations. "Oh, you should not read too much into that," he deadpans. "You should see this as a product more than a business."

Pure investment banking provided just 3% of group non-interest income in the first quarter of 2013. But take the wholesale business in its entirety, and it’s some product – as a matter of fact, it is some business. Over the past 18 months the wholesale bank has regularly produced quarterly net income in the region of $2 billion – about 40% of group profits. It is active in most areas of the investment banking landscape, through debt, equity and advisory, although its real strengths lie in lending to corporate America.

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Stumpf is adamant that this business is there for one purpose only – to serve Wells Fargo’s corporate clients. And its shareholders, perhaps. Better still when the two are combined: "When Warren Buffett bought Heinz, we were there for him; Wells Fargo did half the financing, JPMorgan did the other half."