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Bank of the Year: How Wells Fargo conquered America

It’s the most successful bank of the post-financial crisis generation. But alongside numbers that make its rivals green with envy, it maintains a steadfastly old-fashioned approach to the business of banking. Is this what a model modern bank should look like? Or is there more to Wells Fargo than meets the eye?

With any senior executive from Wells Fargo, it seems, you have to start with the history lesson. That’s certainly the case with the bank’s chairman and chief executive, John Stumpf. On first meeting, he tells how Mr Wells and Mr Fargo opened their first branch in 1852, with a stagecoach business that remains the logo of the bank to this day.

Then you get the vision and values bit. How Wells does not have branches; it has stores (in fact at 9,000 distribution points it has considerably more than any other bank in the US). How client needs are paramount – banking is a customer-service business first; you make your money afterwards. Or, as Stumpf puts it with at least a trace of irony: "You don’t put your stagecoach before the horses," before adding a little more portentously: "Before the crisis, far too many companies in our industry put the money first."

Tim Sloan, the bank’s CFO, also wants to talk history: he says it gives the bank its long-term focus. "This business is not about tomorrow or the next quarter. We’re the current guardians of a business that dates back more than 160 years.

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