Wells Fargo Bank targets lending ranking atop big-ticket import/export market
By Zachary S. Fagenson
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank is looking to become the predominant lender for export and import companies with revenues above $20 million in South Florida and across the state.
As the bank prepares for the 2011 conversion of Wachovia's Florida branches to its own, it also added a Miami office to its International Banking and Trade Services division in early October, said Bruce Sim, senior vice president and Florida regional manager of Wells Fargo's international banking and trade solutions division, and now has six people working in downtown Miami.
The division has 13 other offices nationally offering everything from supply-chain financing, foreign exchanges services, and real estate and equipment financing to letters of credit and shipment tracking.
The bank is also one of the largest users of US Export-Import Bank financing including the pre-export working capital program and its medium-term program, which finances the sale of large capital goods.
And while many of Miami's smaller exporters don't fit into the bank's target market, those that do get "a complete relationship."
For "a major importer of women's clothes here in Florida," Mr. Sim said, "we designed a very complex system for them to handle all their imports. The CFO can go online, see all of his letters of credit [and] where his shipments are in the all different parts of the world."
Wells Fargo seems well positioned to become a major player in trade finance after its 2008 acquisition of Wachovia Bank for about $12.7 billion.
The merger gave Wells Fargo 740 branches and $71 billion in deposits around the state and 65 offices and about $10 billion in deposits in Miami-Dade County — and the No. 1 spot in both categories.
Though the move saddled the bank with billions in real estate debt, Wells Fargo also picked up 35 overseas offices serving clients in more than 130 countries. It now also has relationships with more than 4,000 partner banks globally.
The acquisition, and new partners, prompted the bank to add international banking offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia and New York. Wells Fargo's trade finance business in Florida was formerly managed through its Texas offices.
The contacts around the globe benefit the bank in several ways.
"You've got relationships with major banks on the ground in key countries," Mr. Sim said. "If we wanted to do something for one of our US partners through a partner bank, we can arrange financing on the ground. We can provide a letter of credit to a bank [we know] in Thailand… so the money can be provided locally by our Thai bank friends and they're backstopped by Wells Fargo.
"Unless you've got this established network of partners, that's a very difficult transaction."
And while he wouldn't reveal the value of division's book of business in Miami or name any of its notable clients here, he said "things are off to a very good start."