Executives interested in securing a chief financial officer role at a large banking company can choose from several options as a result of increased turnover and the lingering credit crisis.
Fifth Third Bancorp, First Horizon National Corp., National City Corp., and Wachovia Corp. are known to be looking for CFOs, and observers say several other companies may be testing the waters.
All four companies are likely searching for a CFO who clearly will do more than crunch numbers, according to Barry Bregman, a partner in the financial services practice at the executive recruiting firm CTPartners.
Applicants must be aware that they not only would be trying to build a stronger banking company, but also would be given the task of "rebuilding the firm's financial integrity and morale while restoring the confidence of investors, clients, and employees," Mr. Bregman said in an interview Wednesday. "It's no easy task."
Succeeding Thomas Wurtz at Wachovia may present the greatest challenge.
The $812 billion-asset Charlotte company is grappling with surging defaults in a $122 billion option adjustable-rate portfolio inherited from the ill-timed 2006 acquisition of Golden West Financial Corp. That purchase has generally been viewed as the primary impetus for the ouster in June of then chief executive G. Kennedy Thompson. Last month, as questions mounted about perceived lapses in risk management, Wachovia said Mr. Wurtz and Donald Truslow, its chief risk officer, would also step down. Both executives are expected to remain in place until successors are named.
Robert K. Steel, Wachovia's new CEO, told analysts at an Aug. 4 luncheon that he wanted the CFO post filled within a month. A source familiar with the process said Wachovia hired the executive recruiter Andrea Redman, who was involved in bringing James Dimon to Bank One Corp. when she worked at Russell Reynolds Associates Inc.
Calls to Ms. Redman were not returned.
A Wachovia spokeswoman would not say who is handling the search, though she said that the response "has been encouraging," and that it expects to fill the post "in the near future." In addition to a strong accounting background, she said that Wachovia is looking at candidates who have "diverse financial service company experience and an ability to build strong relationships with the investor community."
Wachovia has reported two straight quarterly losses, including a $9.1 billion loss for the second quarter. It plans to cut more than 10,000 jobs, reduce the dividend for a second time this year, and shed $20 billion of loans and securities by yearend. It also has announced a plan to review noncore business lines with a view to future divestitures.
Gary Townsend, the president and CEO at Hill-Townsend Capital LLC, said in an interview Wednesday that a new CFO could determine if a dilutive common stock sale is needed, or if any businesses should be sold. He also said a new CFO could determine whether Wachovia needs to take goodwill impairment charges.
Robert Patten, an analyst at Regions Financial Corp.'s Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc., said in an interview Tuesday that the new CFO will have "a mountain to climb" at Wachovia. "They are undergoing a large amount of key personnel changes, and there are a number of issues to work through."
Nat City said last month that Jeffrey D. Kelly would retire as its CFO Sept. 30. The $154 billion-asset Cleveland company has reported three straight quarters of losses, but Peter Raskind, its CEO, is adamant that its capital issues have abated.
Observers said the next CFO could help determine how to spend the $7 billion in capital it raised in April.
Frank Barkocy, the director of research at Mendon Capital Advisors LLC, said in an interview Wednesday that Nat City has "done a lot of its cleanup work already," and that the CFO's role will be a matter of moving things forward. "Here you have a company that is trying to transition away from a multi-silo model to a more traditional retail and commercial business."
Observers said the new CFO will need to identify areas where it can contain expenses and businesses primed for shrinking while the company looks to expand its retail operations.
"They will have to pull their horns in to a degree," Mr. Townsend said.
Mr. Patten expressed concern about liquidity at Nat City, which has been the subject of speculation in recent quarters over its long-term viability and could face difficulties if clients get spooked.
A Nat City spokeswoman would not comment on their efforts other than saying the company "is comfortable with its progress."
Daniel T. Poston, Fifth Third's controller, has been serving as the $112 billion-asset Cincinnati company's interim CFO since Christopher Marshall left in May. Observers say a lengthy stint with an interim CFO could require Mr. Marshall's successor to play catch-up.
A spokeswoman for Fifth Third said that Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. is handling its search, and that her company has interviewed "a variety of different candidates" but is unwilling to "set an artificial deadline" for filling the post.
Mr. Barkocy said Fifth Third has some decisions pending, including whether to retain or sell certain businesses, such as its processing unit. It said in June that it was reviewing noncore business lines.
"They must decide whether to sell an earnings source to raise capital at a time when you also need the earnings," he said. "You would think a CFO would have an important role in making that decision."
Mr. Townsend said Fifth Third's next CFO would face a critical issue: How can it expand organically, given that its operations are mostly located in slower markets and recent acquisitions outside the Midwest have largely drawn "fixer-upper" labels and contributed to wide-ranging credit issues in areas such as commercial real estate, indirect auto lending, and Florida operations.
Observers say First Horizon's vacancy may offer the most seamless transition for a new CFO. The $36 billion-asset Memphis company has completed most of a retrenchment aimed at shrinking itself from a company with national ambitions to a large Tennessee banking operation with a regional capital markets business. And it helps that D. Bryan Jordan, who is set to become the CEO on Sept. 1, has been its CFO since May of last year.
John Daniel, First Horizon's head of human resources, said it hired Peter Crist, a recruiter at Crist Kolder Associates, last month to vet candidates. He said those on the short list could range from a "strong second" at a large banking company to a CFO at a smaller one. First Horizon is scheduling interviews and hopes to fill the post this year, Mr. Daniel said.
Thomas Adams, First Horizon's treasurer, is the company's interim CFO.
Mr. Patten said the situation at First Horizon is now "a little more simple," because it exited all its national lending businesses and agreed to sell its mortgage unit to MetLife Inc.
"A lot of the bad news is out, and they've raised capital. So what they really need is someone who can ably communicate to investors and think strategically," he said. Credit quality remains a concern, particularly in mortgage, small-business, and consumer lending.
Mr. Townsend said anyone taking the job would have to deal with continual speculation that First Horizon could sell itself. Nevertheless, "in all fairness, every one of the companies searching for a CFO could be described as fixer-uppers, and every one of them could be seen as an eventual acquisition target," he said. "It will be a lot of work regardless of the company."