Wells Fargo & Co. said 53-year-old mortgage chief Mark Oman intends to retire by the end of 2009, raising questions about a key post as the San Francisco-based financial institution grapples with the U.S.'s worst banking crisis in two decades.

A senior executive vice president, Mr. Oman oversees 47,000 employees in the company's home and consumer-finance group, including nearly 26,000 who work in mortgages. Mr. Oman's group - which also includes consumer lending, credit cards, auto loans and commercial credit - will remain "in its current form" and keep its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, the company said.

Mr. Oman started in 1979 with Norwest Corp., which purchased Wells Fargo in 1998 and adopted its name. He became head of Wells Fargo's home and consumer-finance group in 2002. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said Mr. Oman's decision to retire was a "personal decision." He was unavailable to comment Tuesday, a spokeswoman said. Whether Wells Fargo fills the position once Mr. Oman is gone is "a premature question," she added.

Analyst Nancy Bush of NAB Research LLC in Annandale, N.J., said in an email that Mr. Oman's departure "signals a downsizing of the mortgage/consumer-finance sector of the bank in favor of the deposit gathering function."

The Wells Fargo spokeswoman said Mr. Oman's exit "has nothing to do with the strategy or the structure of the company."

The nation's fifth-largest bank by assets, Wells Fargo has largely avoided the subprime-mortgage problems afflicting many peers, but has struggled with losses in its home-equity portfolio. Wells Fargo's profit dropped 23% in the second quarter to $1.75 billion, and its provision for loan losses more than quadrupled. Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Meredith Whitney, who couldn't be reached Tuesday, has argued that larger losses may still weigh down the bank.

Despite the profit drop, Wells Fargo's results still exceeded analysts' expectations, and checking accounts were up a net 5.5% in the period, the largest jump in three years. The company also increased its dividend, and this month agreed to buy Century Bancshares Inc. in Dallas.

"What should be understood about Wells Fargo is that it is increasing its customer base in bad times," analyst Richard Bove of Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. said in a recent research note.

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