SAN FRANCISCO Wells Fargo & Co., which has for some time expressed interest in buying brokerages but has said it couldnt stomach their price tags, is trying a cheaper way to expand its reach.
With a deal announced Friday to buy the financial and tax advisory firm H.D. Vest of Irving, Tex., Wells Fargo stands to gain 6,000 financial advisers who work as independent contractors for the firm.
The price, $127.5 million or $21.03 in cash per share of H.D. Vests common stock, would be three times as high as the firms Thursday closing price of $7.
But its pocket change for $272 billion-asset Wells Fargo and what it stands to gain with an acquisition, said Matt Snowling, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. It looks expensive on the stock premium but not on the business Wells is getting, he said.
H.D. Vests network of tax and financial advisers, who work on a contract and commission basis rather than as full-time employees, should bring Wells 6,000 points of contact with a potential 1.8 million customers, most of whom have not used a Wells product before.
Wells is basically paying $70 a customer, or less than one-third what other brokerages spend to recruit customers through advertising and other lures, Mr. Snowling said.
Dennis Mooradian, president of Wells Fargo private-client services, said the deal is a way for Wells Fargo to capitalize on the trusted relationships that the individual who does your tax return generally has.
If Wells makes some of our products and services available, then it enhances the relationship they have with the client whether its home equity loans, mutual funds, annuities, mortgages, or for that matter, credit cards, he said.
Though Wells initial outlay would be small, part of what it would get is the potential to land some of H.D. Vests clients and their $16 billion of assets, Mr. Snowling said. This structure, and its up-front benefits, differs from the acquisition of a brokerage or investment management firm, which supplies immediate access to their clients assets, he said.
Though less expensive, it wont achieve all the benefits of a conventional deal, Mr. Snowling said.
How many Wells Fargo products and services Vest customers buy will be determined by how well the contractors cross-sell Wells products.
The San Francisco banking company, which has been one of the loudest advocates of cross-selling products, is already eyeing the product areas H.D. Vest does not offer. With its roots in tax advice and preparation, the firms contractors now also offer financial advisory services such as securities, insurance, and money management.
Mr. Mooradian said that personal trust and credit, including mortgages, consumer loans, and secured stock lending, are areas in which Wells products can fill gaps.
Reaching customers through a network of independent contractors rather than full-time employees is not new.
Last year First Union Corp. bought JWGenesis Financial Corp., a Boca Raton, Fla., brokerage firm mainly staffed by independent contractors. When Wells that year bought Ragen MacKenzie Group Inc., a small Seattle brokerage, it gained a small independent contractor unit.
The most notable example of such an arrangement is American Express Financial Advisors, which employs about 12,000 financial advisers, many of whom are independent contractors.
But deals for businesses that use these structures havent been common, and Wells said it believes the H.D. Vest deal would be a first of its kind in the banking industry.
There are very few banks in the independent contractor business in any way, and there isnt any bank in it with a focus on tax service professionals, Mr. Mooradian said.
But he predicted that Wells will not be a out front alone for long. I think other banks are looking, he said.
H.D. Vest would keep its name and become a separate business unit of Wells Fargo. The deal is expected to close within three months.
This is Wells second deal announcement this month. On March 8 it announced plans to buy ACO Brokerage Holdings Corp., the nations fifth-largest insurance broker.