How the president of Abbot Downing tried to save the Wells Fargo unit for the ultra-rich from being folded
- Wells Fargo folded Abbot Downing, which served the bank's wealthiest clients, in late 2020.
- Employees have since left in droves, many to work for Abbott Downing's ex-boss Jack Ginter.
In late 2020, Wells Fargo disbanded Abbot Downing, the unit that catered to the bank's wealthiest clients.
It would have been held up as a crown jewel at any other firm, serving clients with at least $50 million in assets and managing $47 billion. But as part of CEO Charlie Scharf's mission to cut $10 billion in costs, Wells Fargo streamlined its wealth businesses with Abbot Downing as a casualty of that effort.
Since Abbot Downing was folded, there has been a mass exodus, with at least 110 employees out of some 300 leaving Wells Fargo since January 2021, including one team that managed $3.5 billion in assets, according to Insider's research.
This might have been avoided had the bank heeded the advice of the division's then-president, Jack Ginter, Insider can exclusively report.
According to three former employees familiar with the conversation, Ginter floated two options to Jim Hays, who led the bank's brokerage, to save the Abbott Downing brand. The first was to sell Abbot Downing via a management buyout. The second was to spin off the division into a stand-alone business that would be part of Wells Fargo's channel for independent advisors.
The ideas were rejected, the three former employees said. A source close to Hays, who has since retired, said the conversation with Ginter did not happen. Ginter declined to comment. Wells Fargo declined to comment on Ginter but said the reorganization is helping it better serve wealthy clients.
Abbot Downing was folded into Wells Fargo's private bank, which also serves rich clients, but it wasn't a safe haven. For years, Wells Fargo has reorganized its wealth-management businesses to prioritize Wells Fargo's brokerage, which caters to the mass-affluent set, at the expense of Abbot Downing and Wells Fargo's private bank, according to 19 current and former employees who spoke to Insider.
"The name change emotionally pissed me off, but it's not the reason I left," said one former senior executive at Abbot Downing. "The reason I left was the organizational changes and the absolute removal of the specialty focus."
Ginter left Wells Fargo in September 2021 to launch a new registered investment advisor the following March. The firm, Callan Family Office is self-financed by 22 partners, all of whom hail from Abbot Downing, according to an interview with Barron's.
Some ex-Abbot Downing employees refer to Callan the "new Abbot Downing" for its focus on the ultra-rich set. Callan manages about $4 billion in assets with an average client size of $100 million, Ginter told Barron's.
"I think many firms speak to the ability to serve this ultra-affluent client base, but very few will really invest the time and the resources to do it," he said. "The large firms are very focused on volume through their business model and through their platform today."
Some staff of Abbot Downing and the private bank said that they understood the economic rationale for curtailing their white-glove services. But they worry that the cost-cutting has gone too far, resulting in Wells Fargo undoing years of progress in attracting wealthy clients. A former wealth advisor compared the reorganization to a car-repair shop pivoting from fixing Ferraris to Toyotas.
"Maybe you're going to make more money this way, but the people that are used to getting their Ferraris fixed are used to a certain service or quality of service and attention to detail. And all that went out the window once you started opening it up to everybody," he said.
Do you work for Wells Fargo's Wealth and Investment Management unit? Are you a current or former client of Wells Fargo Private Bank or Abbot Downing? Contact Hayley Cuccinello at email@example.com or 917 740 5340, which works for phone, text, and encrypted messaging apps like Signal.
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