Bove Praises Wells Fargo's Bad Service

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Banking analyst Richard Bove says Wells Fargo (WFC) has been treating him terribly as a retail customer. He suspects that's an excellent business move.

From baffling fees to a botched four-month refinance to a branch staffer that left work in the middle of serving him, Wells has given Bove troubles of late. In a Monday research note, the prominent analyst for Rochdale Securities made the case that the bank has gutted the quality customer service that Wachovia (his old bank, and Wells' crisis-era acquisition) used to be known for.

While Wells still talks a good game on maintaining Wachovia's customer service, "I must admit I am no longer willing to take any statements made by this company at face value," Bove wrote.

But he's not sore, arguing that the bank's bungling is likely just good business.

"I have followed the company and its stock for decades and I am convinced that there is not a better-run bank in the country," he wrote. "What my Wells Fargo experience suggests is that a successful bank is one that keeps seeking new customers and selling them more products and not getting bogged down by offering service."

Bove is not the first to argue that big retail bank profits come from luring masses of customers through the door and then nickel-and-diming them to death. But the analyst may be a pioneer in publicly blessing that strategy as good business.

"Service is less important than selling. Service is far less important than effective financial management. Wells is a master at both," Bove concluded. "Customer service is not a key factor in building a successful bank. In fact, it may be a detriment to success not a source of it."

Bove's admiration for Wells' smarts doesn't make banking with them any easier, he wrote. Hence, he's closing out his Wells accounts and moving to JPMorgan Chase (JPM), which is entering his home market in Tampa.

Wells spokeswoman Mary Eshet declined to discuss Bove's take, citing bank policy of not responding to analyst reports. But she pointed to Wells' post-Wachovia merger outperformance among big banks in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Good service is "incredibly important and central to our vision and values," she wrote in an email, adding that Wells frequently surveys its retail clients. "We remain committed to putting our customers at the center of everything we do."

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