Wells Fargo looks to build wealth business

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co, the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets, is interested in expanding its wealth business, Chief Executive John Stumpf said on Tuesday.

The bank believes its wealth business is “sub-optimized” and could be bigger, Stumpf told a conference in New York.

“If there were the right opportunity at the right time, that could be interesting to us,” he said, responding to a question about possible deals.

The bank is also looking to expand its insurance distribution business, Stumpf said.

Wells Fargo was the third-largest U.S. wealth manager at the end of September, behind Bank of America Corp and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, with $1.1 trillion in private-client assets and 15,088 advisers.

The San Francisco-based bank bought Wachovia Corp at the end of 2008, adding the Southeastern bank’s large network of advisers to its own wealth business.

Wachovia and its predecessors had built a brokerage giant by acquiring dozens of regional firms.

Recruiting wars between brokerages peaked in 2009, but Wells Fargo has continued to add advisers this year, the bank’s executive vice president for wealth, retirement and brokerage David Carroll told the Reuters Wealth Management Summit last month.

Wells Fargo added 1,100 advisers in the first nine months of 2010, Carroll said.

Shares of Wells Fargo are up 6.5 percent since the start of the year.

Reporting by Elinor Comlay; editing by John Wallace, Dave Zimmerman