Wells Fargo & Co.'s agreement to buy a midwestern investment firm could be the first in a series as the San Francisco company seeks to boost profits from investment management and insurance.
On Nov. 21, Wells announced that it would buy privately held SCI Financial Group Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. SCI provides brokerage, investment management, and pension services through its three subsidiaries.
The deal is expected to close in the first quarter. The price was not disclosed.
Wells has acquired several community banks nationwide since November 1998, when the old Norwest Corp. bought the old Wells Fargo & Co. and took its name. It has also made deals to buy several specialty finance firms.
But apart from buying Seattle-based Ragen MacKenzie Group Inc., which owns two regional brokerage firms, Wells has been slow to acquire investment firms. SCI will be its first investment management acquisition in the Midwest, a spokeswoman said.
One of Wells' strategic objectives is to make the investment and insurance businesses yield 25% of corporate profits, said John Farrish, a regional managing director of Wells Fargo Private Client Services. "Currently it's half of that."
Mr. Farrish said Wells is interested in acquiring brokerage firms, trust companies, and investment management firms.
The SCI purchase would allow Wells Fargo to sell banking services to SCI's high-net-worth clients, and would give Wells another outlet for its mutual funds and annuities, Mr. Farrish said. It would also give Wells a firmer foothold in Chicago, where SCI has a strong presence and Wells wants to grow, he said.
An equities analyst saw potential in the move. "The asset management side is a good operation to grow because it's an area they haven't leveraged as much," said Diana P. Yates of A.G. Edwards in St. Louis. "They have a good infrastructure, and they're very good at cross-selling. It's a matter of filling in and pushing more products through their system," she said.
Barbara Knapp, SCI's chairman and chief executive officer, predicted that there would be a lot of interest in Wells Fargo's banking services among SCI's 20,000 or so high-net-worth clients.
"Our clients are sophisticated enough to want one relationship manager who can meet all their needs," she said. "They're really missing estate planning, private banking, and trust services."
Pension services would be a new, and potentially profitable, area for Wells' private client group, Ms. Knapp said. "We look at pension service as an entry point to capture other individual business," she said.
SCI, which has $1.7 billion in assets under management, will continue to operate as a separate company under the name "SCI Financial Group, a division of Wells Fargo" and SCI's current management will remain in place, Mr. Farrish said.