* No. 4 U.S. bank targeting 20 countries for growth
* Focus on serving U.S. customers abroad
* Foreign loans equal about 5 percent of total
By Rick Rothacker
Nov 6 (Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co is ramping up commercial lending and treasury management operations in Canada as part of an international expansion that will eventually reach 20 countries outside the United States.
The No. 4 U.S. bank by assets on Tuesday said it’s adding wholesale business lines in Canada after receiving a license in September that allows it to make loans to and take deposits from corporate customers but not consumers.
Canada is the ninth country where the bank has increased capabilities to serve businesses outside the United States in a plan that will take about three years, said Rajnish Bharadwaj, Wells Fargo’s head of cross border governance. The bank is targeting locations in Europe, Asia and eventually Latin America.
“Canada is one of our more significant opportunities,” Bharadwaj said.
Foreign loans equaled about 5 percent of Wells Fargo’s total loans and 3 percent of total assets as of June 30, according to the bank’s most recent quarterly securities filing. Wells doesn’t provide a breakdown by county, but Canada is in the top five, Bharadwaj said.
The bank’s international business could double over the next five years, but the percentage of assets and loans shouldn’t change much as the rest of the company grows, he said. Overall, Wells has offices in 37 countries, offering services such as trade finance.
The San Francisco-based bank previously had select businesses in Canada such as asset-based lending and equipment finance, but under its new license it will now have commercial banking, global banking, commercial real estate and energy banking businesses in the country.
The bank has added 25 employees in its banking operations and will likely double that over the next year, said Rick Valade, Wells’ country manager for Canada. Overall, it has about 75 people in offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.
Foreign banks generally have had a tough time gaining scale in the Canadian banking industry, which is dominated by five large domestic lenders that are protected from takeovers by federal laws.
While a handful of U.S. banks operate small subsidiaries in the country - Citigroup Inc and Bank of America Corp among them - the trend in the wake of the financial crisis has been for them to sell off non-core Canadian assets rather than add.
Indeed, Wells Fargo shut down its Canadian consumer lending business in 2010.
Wells will aim to serve existing U.S. customers with subsidiaries in Canada, Canadian companies with business in the United States and local Canadian companies.
“We very much respect the Canadian banks,” Valade said. “We’re not looking to compete directly with them. In most circumstances, we’re truly taking our customer relationships that we have in the U.S. and being able to service those needs in Canada.”
Wells Fargo shares rose 35 cents in morning trading to $34.37.