Wells Fargo & Co.’s pick for its new chief financial officer — a life insurance executive with a background at East Coast banks — demonstrates in one more way its own evolution from a traditional bank into a diversified financial services company.

Howard I. Atkins, who will leave the CFO post at New York Life Insurance to join Wells, began his career as a banker and spent most of it in various finance functions at commercial banking companies. For the last five years he has worked in insurance — an area in which Wells has consistently said it plans to expand.

His background in the insurance industry “was an added plus,” said Wells’ chief executive officer, Richard C. Kovacevich, in an interview Thursday between appointments in New York.

“He has all the experiences we think are important,” including a background at a money-center bank, regional bank, in capital markets, and insurance, Mr. Kovacevich said. “In one way or the other, that’s our company.”

The naming of Mr. Atkins concluded a four-month search conducted by the executive recruitment firm Russell Reynolds & Co. for a successor to Ross Kari, who said this spring that he would step down as finance chief at Wells. Mr. Atkins, 50, is scheduled to join Wells on Aug. 1.

His banking roots sprouted at the old Chase Manhattan Bank. After joining it in 1974, he filled such senior positions as head of capital markets for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and head of worldwide derivatives trading.

In 1988 he became the New York bank’s treasurer. He left that position three years later to become chief financial officer of $16 billion-asset Midlantic Corp., where he helped complete a restructuring and turnaround before its sale to PNC Bank Corp. in 1995.

Mr. Atkins said key differences will be Wells Fargo’s size and diversity of businesses. “Wells Fargo is a very big and very diverse financial services company, much larger and more diversified than New York Life.”

The executive is making one major adjustment: He will relocate from New York to San Francisco.

Wells Fargo began its search for a new chief financial officer when Mr. Kari said he wanted to move to a more management-oriented position, either inside or outside the company. In an earlier interview, he said that being a chief financial officer was “not something I thought I’d do forever.”

As it turns out, he’ll do it for a while longer. On Thursday a privately held wealth advisory firm called MyCFO Inc. said it had hired Mr. Kari as its chief financial officer. He will start on Aug. 16.

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