Wells Fargo plans to systematically poach Credit Suisse's private brokers in the U.S. and their clients — and the Swiss bank is OK with that.

The two banks have reached an agreement to allow Wells Fargo to recruit brokers who work in Credit Suisse's U.S. private banking business. Specific terms of the agreement, which was announced on Oct. 20, were not disclosed.

The pact comes as Credit Suisse plans to exit its private banking operations in the U.S. by the first quarter, a spokeswoman said.

To make its case, Wells Fargo has offered sterling benefits to Credit Suisse's approximately 275 brokers in the U.S., including an introductory perk worth 300% of annual fees and commission, the Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 21. Jack Grone, a Wells Fargo spokesman, declined to confirm that figure for American Banker.

"That is the top recruiting deal that Wells Fargo would typically offer," said Wendy Leung, a senior consultant at Diamond Consultants, an executive search firm in Morristown, N.J.

"It is novel in the way they structured it," Leung said. "Instead of an outright acquisition, it is more of a recruitment effort."

David Carroll, head of Wells Fargos's wealth division, and Mary Mack, head of Wells Fargo Advisors, met with Credit Suisse's brokers in person last week during a recruitment tour, Grone said.

Wells Fargo has also recruited Credit Suisse's brokers by inviting them to its St. Louis office for more "intensive meetings," Grone said. Credit Suisse's brokers are free to join any other bank.

Wells Fargo's retail brokerage arm managed about $1.4 trillion in client assets, as of Sept. 30, down about 4% from a year ago, according to its quarterly earnings. Wells Fargo Advisors employed about 15,000 financial advisers and 4,000 licensed bankers, as of March 31.

"This has been an area of significant growth," Grone said. Wells Fargo is eager to bring in "a very attractive client base."

As for Credit Suisse, it is negotiating an expanded relationship with Wells Fargo in other areas. Wells Fargo may begin offering Credit Suisse investment banking and asset management products through its distribution network. 

"We do expect to strategically expand our relationship," said Grone.

Wells Fargo and Credit Suisse declined to comment on whether Credit Suisse will receive compensaton from the recruiting agreement.

A Credit Suisse spokeswoman said that the bank's U.S. private banking division does "not have the necessary scale to sustainably compete without significant investment or acquisition."

Credit Suisse's decision echoes that of other European banks that have operated wealth management divisions in the U.S., Leung said. They've decided it's too difficult to compete in the U.S. without more scale and are looking to form a partnership or sell the business altogether.

"Some of these European boutiques need the larger scale that come from a U.S. organization," Leung said, citing Stifel Financial's recent acquisition of Barclays' domestic wealth management group.

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