When Wells Fargo & Co. executives decided they wanted to look and act more like a full-service brokerage than a bank, they turned to Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. for investment savvy and services.
Under an arrangement announced last week, Wells will have access to the same products, research and knowledge as Dean Witter-a full-service brokerage firm-without having to build one from scratch. And Dean Witter, the retail brokerage arm of Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover Co., will have access to Wells' massive customer base.
"The reality is, with 380 sales people, we're not at the scale to build things from the ground up," said Dennis Mooradian, executive vice president of private client services and president of Wells Fargo Securities.
"Our goal is to transition the bank-brokerage business, which is really a transactional business, to a relationship business that is full service, and touches the customer relationship in every way," he added.
Dean Witter, for its part, will gain clients who do not typically turn to brokerage firms for their investment needs, said Richard Powers, executive vice president and director of marketing at Dean Witter.
The firm currently has similar arrangements with NationsBank Corp. and Banc One Corp., and is looking for five to seven more bank partners in the Northeast, the Northwest, and the Middle Atlantic states, said Mr. Powers.
"Bank customers who buy investment products through banks typically only buy through banks," he said.
The full range of Dean Witter's services will be available to Wells in the first quarter of next year.
By allying with a brokerage firm rather than buying one, Wells Fargo and other banks can better focus on reaching potential clients in their markets, said James McCormick, president of First Manhattan Consulting Group, New York.
"This gives them (the banks) a regional basis for cross-selling, and they can leverage what would take them a long time to build internally," Mr. McCormick said.
Partnerships between banks and brokerages have a spotted history, however.
Dean Witter's first arrangement with NationsBank was dissolved, and renegotiated, in 1994 after about two years. Dean Witter wanted the option of forming other partnerships-which was precluded in its initial agreement with NationsBank-Mr. Powers said.
An alliance between Chemical Banking Corp. and Liberty Financial Cos. in 1993 lasted only 10 months. Industry scuttlebutt is that the deal was the victim of culture clashes.
Whatever the problems were in the past concerning such ventures, the one between Wells and Dean Witter shows promise, said Avi Nachmany, a partner at Strategic Insight, New York.
"If you're defining yourself as a financial service company, providing the widest range of investment needs and relationships, this is the right way to do it," Mr. Nachmany said.
"Success comes in many small steps, but I think this is a step in the right direction."