Wintrust Chief Turns Earnings Call into Stand-Up Act

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Perhaps Ed Wehmer should change his title to CZO: chief zinger officer.

Wehmer, the CEO of Wintrust Financial (WTFC) in Rosemont, Ill., has long been known for his way with words — or "Wehmerisms" as analysts often call them.

But he went on a roll during the company's fourth-quarter conference call last week — even after promising to rein himself in.

The general counsel "has now resorted to putting a shock collar on me so I don't say anything out of line, so it will probably be a pretty boring conference call," he said at the start of the call.

Wrong. The imagery and one-liners began to flow.

He likened the delicate balance of loans and deposits to "climbing a ladder. One quarter we need liquidity, one quarter we need loans, one quarter we need liquidity."

When the Federal Reserve ultimately raises interest rates, he said, profits will soar with a "beach ball underwater effect."

In offering a caution about failed-bank deals with Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., he said: "There are explosions in compost piles out there."

Wehmerisms can appeal to classical or popular tastes.

The current operating environment, he said, recalls the Greek legend of Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra who was condemned to an eternity of repeatedly rolling a boulder up a hill. "Now it's a bigger rock, and we have to push it back up the hill this year, but we think we're well-positioned to do that."

He quoted the 1991 movie "Father of the Bride" in detailing how the Wintrust brand has become more prominent since the $17 billion-asset company opened a commercial loan office in downtown Chicago last year. The multibank holding company brands its banks based on their location.

"The Wintrust name, for not being known in Chicago three years ago, is now — as my kids say, 'Welcome to the 90s, Mr. Banks,' — in everybody's Rolodex." (The greeting is the response of Martin Short's wedding planner character to the concerns Steve Martin's character has to the price of his daughter's wedding cake.)

Lastly, Wehmer described smaller banks looking to be acquired by Wintrust as "lined up like planes over O'Hare" — the Chicago airport that is among the world's busiest. This week, the company allowed one to land: on Tuesday, Wintrust announced it would acquire the $370 million-asset First Lansing Bancorp for $38.5 million.

The analysts on the call saluted the performance.

"The number of Wehmerisms on this call are at an all-time high," said Jon Arfstrom from RBC Capital Markets.

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