The choice of a name can be a sticking point for bankers in high-level merger negotiations. Not so for Norwest Corp. chairman Richard Kovacevich, who came easily to the decision to embrace the Wells Fargo moniker.
"There were problems with a directional name like Norwest," Mr. Kovacevich said Monday when he announced his company's $34 billion merger deal with Wells. "There couldn't be a better brand to describe what this company is."
Consultants agreed, saying Wells is an especially strong banking name with positive attributes.
"Wells has a perception of being an innovative institution," said Les Dinkin, a retail banking consultant at Oliver Wyman & Co. in New York. "Norwest also has a strong reputation, but it doesn't have as high a profile."
Wells Fargo was founded in San Francisco in 1852 by Henry Wells and William Fargo. Its stagecoach symbol has progressive, pioneering connotations, consultants said.
"It has imagery to it," Mr. Dinkin said.
The Norwest brand, by contrast, has been associated with a region rather than with imagery.
The Minneapolis banking company was incorporated in 1929 as Northwestern Bank Corp. It evolved into Northwest Bancorp., which changed its name to Norwest in 1982 as part of an effort to unify a loose confederation of operating units, a spokeswoman said.
The acceptance of the Wells Fargo name may reflect Mr. Kovacevich's understanding of the challenges the Norwest handle could face in some markets. Though Norwest has been historically strong in rural regions, Wells Fargo has hubs in larger metropolitan areas.
A strong brand is considered more important in more populated markets where numerous financial institutions vie for attention.
"Their most important markets-California and Texas-are filled with national providers," said Edward Furash, chairman of Furash & Co. in Washington. "The real issue for them was having a competitive brand."
Norwest is imitating other banking companies that concluded they had outgrown old geographical foundations.
Even in the absence of a merger, Bankers Trust Corp. dropped "New York" from its name in April. State Street Corp. nixed "Boston" last year. Each company said its name change better reflected its "global business reach."
"The business is so much broader than what it used to be," said Brannon Cashion, corporate identity consultant at Addison Whitney Inc., Charlotte, N.C. "Most companies are trying to redefine themselves as financial services providers to convey the breadth of services they provide."