Wells Fargo & Co. has picked an insider to head its U.S. corporate banking unit, which the San Francisco company says is poised to take market share from competitors distracted by credit turmoil.
It has become a familiar refrain at the $609 billion-asset company this year — as others struggle under the weight of credit losses, the soundly profitable Wells, billing itself as a safe haven, is pushing hard for growth.
"We're not busy playing defense. … While so many other banks have something holding them back, we're taking that as an opportunity to get out there even more and do business with even more people," John R. Shrewsberry, who was named the head of U.S. corporate banking Tuesday, said in an interview.
Wells has the cash to spend on new technology and bankers to woo corporate clients, Mr. Shrewsberry said.
Dozens of finance chiefs at large companies throughout the country are rethinking their banking relationships after big losses at many banking companies and, by extension, dwindling access to credit, he said. "And that's causing our phone to ring a lot more often."
The corporate banking unit set revenue records in both 2006 and 2007, and Mr. Shrewsberry expects more of the same.
He succeeded David Marks, who left Wells in March for personal reasons, a spokeswoman said.
Mr. Shrewsberry will remain the head of Wells' securities investment group, a job he has held for two years.
He would not provide specific growth targets or say how big the corporate banking portfolio is now. But he did say the corporate banking unit, which serves clients with annual revenue above $500 million, is steadily growing across a wide range of sectors.
The unit is part of Wells' wholesale banking arm, whose second-quarter revenue rose 8% from a year earlier, to $2.5 billion.
The goal is to gain share now, he said, and when economic conditions improve and corporate investments ratchet up, Wells will be poised for rapid expansion.
Wells is investing "tens of millions" in new technology to bolster corporate banking services, Mr. Shrewsberry said. "That's a discretionary item" for most competitors, and some companies have taken it off the table this year to conserve capital.
He also said Wells is steadily expanding its staff of corporate bankers at nine offices across the country, in part by cherry-picking top talent from competitors.
"There are extraordinarily high-quality people being shaken loose" from competitors, Mr. Shrewsberry said. He would not say how many bankers the company might hire.
Analysts said Wells, which posted a second-quarter profit of $1.75 billion, is not immune from the credit crisis. They note that the company, which has been dinged by rising defaults in its home equity portfolio, quadrupled its second-quarter provision for credit losses, to $3 billion.
But analysts also say Wells continues to demonstrate that its ability to boost revenue, which jumped 16% in the second quarter, buffers it against credit losses and allows it to push for growth.
"They are able to absorb losses through the strength of so many of their businesses," Joseph K. Morford of Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Capital Markets said in an interview Wednesday.
William Schwartz, an analyst at DBRS Ltd., said in an interview Wednesday that Wells "is surely benefiting from a flight to quality."
There are "some troubled parts in its portfolio, but bigger picture, they are relatively small and contained," Mr. Schwartz said.
Mr. Shrewsberry joined Wells in 2001, when it acquired the firm he founded, American Commercial Capital LLC. Earlier he had been a vice president in the fixed-income division at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Timothy J. Sloan, Wells' group head of commercial banking, real estate, and specialized financial services, said in a press release that Mr. Shrewsberry was selected for the corporate banking role because of his proven ability to lead in turbulent economic times.
"Under John's leadership, the securities investment group has produced strong growth of assets, revenues, and profits during unusual market volatility the last two years," Mr. Sloan said.