Wachovia | History and definition Wachovia | Wachovia logo

Wachovia (known as Wachovia Bank, a division of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.) is a diversified financial services company based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before its acquisition by Wells Fargo, Wachovia was the fourth-largest bank holding company in the United States based on total assets. The purchase of Wachovia by Wells Fargo and Company was completed on December 31, 2008. Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia after a government-forced sale to avoid a failure of Wachovia.

Starting in 2009, the Wachovia brand is being absorbed into the Wells Fargo brand in a process that was initially estimated to last three years. In July 2009, Wachovia Securities became Wells Fargo Advisors. The merger of Wells Fargo and Wachovia bank charters was completed on March 20, 2010.

As an independent company, Wachovia provided a broad range of banking, asset management, wealth management, and corporate and investment banking products and services. The company was organized into four divisions: General Bank (retail, small business, and commercial customers), Wealth Management (high net worth, personal trust, and insurance business), Capital Management (asset management, retirement, and retail brokerage services), and Corporate and Investment Bank (capital markets, investment banking, and financial advisory).

At its height, it was one of the largest providers of financial services in the United States, operating financial centers in 21 states and Washington, D.C., with locations from Connecticut to Florida and west to California. Wachovia provides global services through more than 40 offices around the world.

It served retail brokerage clients under the name Wachovia Securities nationwide as well as in six Latin American countries, and investment banking clients in selected industries nationwide. In 2009, Wachovia Securities was the first Wachovia business to be converted to the Wells Fargo brand, when the business became Wells Fargo Advisors. Wachovia also operated Calibre, its wealth management services to ultra-high net worth families with net worth exceeding $25 million. In 2010, Calibre was renamed Wells Fargo Family Wealth.

The company's corporate and institutional capital markets and investment banking groups operated under the Wachovia Securities brand, while its asset management group operated under the Evergreen Investments brand until 2010, when the Evergreen fund family merged with Wells Fargo Advantage Funds, and institutional and high net worth products merged with Wells Capital Management and its affiliates.

Wachovia (pronounced /wɑːˈkoʊviə/ wah-koh-vee-ə) has its origins in the Latin form of the Austrian name Wachau. When Moravian settlers arrived in Bethabara, North Carolina, in 1753, they gave this name to the land they acquired, because it resembled the Wachau valley along the Danube River. The area formerly known as Wachovia now makes up most of Forsyth County, and the largest city is now Winston-Salem.

Legacy Wachovia Corporation began on June 16, 1879 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina as the Wachovia National Bank. The bank was opened by William Lemly. In 1911, the bank merged with Wachovia Loan and Trust Company, which had been founded on June 15, 1893. Wachovia grew to become one of the largest banks in the Southeast partly on the strength of its accounts from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which was also headquartered in Winston-Salem. On December 12, 1986, Wachovia purchased First Atlanta. Founded as Atlanta National Bank on September 14, 1865, and later renamed to First National Bank of Atlanta, this institution was the oldest national bank in Atlanta. This purchase made Wachovia one of the few companies with dual headquarters: one in Winston-Salem and one in Atlanta. In 1998, Wachovia acquired two Virginia-based banks, Jefferson National Bank and Central Fidelity Bank. In 1997, Wachovia acquired both 1st United Bancorp and American Bankshares Inc, giving its first entry into Florida. In 2000, Wachovia made its final purchase, which was Republic Security Bank.

On April 16, 2001, Charlotte-based First Union Corporation announced it would merge with Winston-Salem based Wachovia Corporation. As an important part of the deal, First Union would shed its name and assumed the Wachovia identity and stock ticker (NYSE: WB).

This merger was viewed with great surprise by the financial press and security analysts. While Wachovia had been viewed as an acquisition candidate after running into problems with earnings and credit quality in 2000, the suitor shocked analysts as many speculated that Wachovia would be sold to SunTrust.

The deal met with skepticism and criticism. Analysts, remembering the problems with the CoreStates acquisition, were concerned about First Union's ability to merge with another large company. Winston-Salem's citizens and politicians suffered a blow to their civic pride because Wachovia's corporate headquarters would move to Charlotte, a larger city than Winston-Salem. The city of Winston-Salem was concerned both by job losses and the loss of stature from losing a major corporate headquarters. First Union was concerned by the potential deposit attrition and customer loss in the city. First Union responded to these concerns by placing the wealth management and Carolinas-region headquarters in Winston-Salem.

On May 14, 2001, Atlanta-based SunTrust announced a rival takeover bid for Wachovia, the first hostile takeover attempt in the banking sector in many years. In its effort to make the deal appeal to investors, SunTrust argued that it would provide a smoother transition than First Union and offered a higher cash price for Wachovia stock than First Union.

Wachovia's board of directors rejected SunTrust's offer and supported the merger with First Union. SunTrust continued its hostile takeover attempt, leading to a bitter battle over the summer between SunTrust and First Union. Both banks increased their offers for Wachovia, took out newspaper ads, mailed letters to shareholders, and initiated court battles to challenge each other's takeover bids. On August 3, 2001, Wachovia shareholders approved the First Union deal, rejecting SunTrust's attempts to elect a new board of directors for Wachovia and ending SunTrust's hostile takeover attempt.

Another problem concerned each bank's credit card division. In April 2001, Wachovia agreed to sell its $8 billion credit card portfolio to Bank One. The cards, which would have still been branded as Wachovia, would have been issued through Bank One's First USA division. First Union had sold its credit card portfolio to MBNA in August 2000. After entering into negotiations, the new Wachovia agreed to buy back its portfolio from Bank One in September 2001 and resell it to MBNA. Wachovia paid Bank One a $350 million termination fee.

On September 4, 2001, First Union and Wachovia officially merged to form the new Wachovia Corporation, though First Union was the surviving entity. In order to prevent a repeat of the CoreStates problems, the new Wachovia took its time phasing-in the conversion of legacy Wachovia computer systems to First Union systems. The company first began converting systems in the southeast United States (where both banks had branches), before moving to the Northeast, where First Union branches only had to change their signs to reflect the new company name and logo. This process ended on August 18, 2003, almost 2 years after the merger took place.

In comparison to the CoreStates purchase, the merger of First Union and Wachovia was billed as a success by analysts. The company's deliberate pace of conversion seems to have prevented any large-scale customer attrition. In fact, every year since the merger, Wachovia has been ranked number one in customer satisfaction among major banks by the University of Michigan's annual American Customer Satisfaction Index.

When Wachovia and First Union merged, Charlotte, North Carolina's One, Two, and Three First Union buildings became One, Two, and Three Wachovia Center (respectively), and the 55-story First Union Financial Center in downtown Miami became the Wachovia Financial Center. The merger also affected the names of the indoor professional sports arenas in Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Formerly known as the First Union Center and the First Union Spectrum (both Philadelphia) and First Union Arena (Wilkes-Barre), they were renamed the Wachovia Center (now known as Wells Fargo Center), Wachovia Spectrum, and Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza (now known as Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza), respectively.

Wachovia Securities and the Prudential Securities Division of Prudential Financial, Inc. combined to form Wachovia Securities LLC on July 1, 2003. Wachovia owns 62% of this entity, while Prudential Financial owns the remaining 38%. At the time, the new firm had client assets of $532.1 billion, making it the nation's third largest full service retail brokerage firm based on assets.

Michael Serricchio, a broker for Prudential Securities, was called to active duty in the Air Force reserve in September 2001. At the time, he was handling about 250 accounts with assets totaling $15 million and earning $80000 a year. He was not offered his old position back after his military stint was over, instead being given a job to make cold calls for a $2,000-a-month advance on his commissions. Wachovia also shuffled all of Serricchio's clients away, leaving him with just 4. He sued Wachovia, who had purchased Prudential Securities. A jury found that Wachovia had breached the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act by intentionally making Serricchio an offer that they knew that he would reject.

Wachovia agreed to purchase Golden West Financial for a little under $25.5 billion on May 7, 2006. This acquisition gave Wachovia an additional 285-branch network spanning 10 states. Wachovia greatly raised its profile in California, where Golden West held $32 billion in deposits and operated 123 branches.

Golden West, which operated branches under the name World Savings Bank, was the second largest savings and loan in the United States. The business was a small savings and loan in the San Francisco Bay area when it was purchased in 1963 for $4 million by Herbert and Marion Sandler. Golden West specialized in option ARMs loans, marketed under the name "Pick-A-Pay." These loans gave the borrower a choice of payment plans, including the option to defer paying a part of the interest owed, which was then added onto the balance of the loan. In 2006, Golden West Financial was named the "Most Admired Company" in the mortgage services business by Fortune magazine. By the time Wachovia announced its acquisition, Golden West had over $125 billion in assets and 11,600 employees. By October 2, 2006 Wachovia had closed the acquisition of Golden West Financial Corporation. The Sandlers agreed to remain on the board at Wachovia.

While Wachovia Chairman and CEO G. Kennedy "Ken" Thompson had described Golden West as a "crown jewel", investors did not react positively to the deal at the time. Analysts have since said that Wachovia purchased Golden West at the peak of the US housing boom. Wachovia Mortgage's mortgage-related problems led to Wachovia suffering writedowns and losses that far exceeded the price paid in the acquisition, ending up in the fire-sale of Wachovia to Wells Fargo.

Though Citigroup was providing the liquidity that allowed Wachovia to continue to operate, Wells Fargo and Wachovia announced on October 3, 2008 they had agreed to merge in an all-stock transaction requiring no FDIC involvement, apparently nullifying the Citigroup deal. Wells Fargo announced it had agreed to acquire all of Wachovia for $15.1 billion in stock. Wachovia preferred the Wells Fargo deal, as it would be worth more than the Citigroup deal and kept all of its businesses intact. Also, there is far less overlap between the banks, as Wells Fargo is dominant in the West and Midwest compared to the redundant footprint of Wachovia and Citibank along the East Coast and South. Both companies' boards unanimously approved the merger on the night of October 2.

Citigroup explored their legal options and demanded that Wachovia and Wells Fargo cease discussions, claiming that Wells Fargo engaged in "tortious interference" with an exclusivity agreement between Citigroup and Wachovia. That agreement states in part that until October 6, 2008 "Wachovia shall not, and shall not permit any of its subsidiaries or any of its or their respective officers, directors, take any action to facilitate or encourage the submission of any Acquisition Proposal."

Citigroup convinced Judge Charles E. Ramos of the New York State Supreme Court to grant a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the Wells Fargo deal. This ruling was later overturned by Judge James M. McGuire of the New York State Court of Appeals, partly because he believed Ramos did not have the right to rule on the case in Connecticut.

On October 9, 2008, Citigroup abandoned their attempt to purchase Wachovia's banking assets, allowing the Wachovia-Wells Fargo merger to go through. However, Citigroup pursued $60 billion in claims, $20 billion in compensatory and $40 billion in punitive damages, against Wachovia and Wells Fargo for alleged violations of the exclusivity agreement. Wells Fargo settled this dispute with Citigroup Inc. for $100 Million on November 19, 2010. Citigroup may have been pressured by regulators to back out of the deal; Bair endorsed Wells Fargo's bid because it removed the FDIC from the picture. Geithner was furious, claiming that the FDIC's reversal would undermine the government's ability to quickly rescue failing banks. However, Geithner's colleagues at the Fed were not willing to take responsibility for selling Wachovia.

The Federal Reserve unanimously approved the merger with Wells Fargo on October 12, 2008. The merger is, however, contingent on certain conditions, that the Federal Reserve has yet to announce.

The combined company will be headquartered in San Francisco, home to Wells Fargo. However, Charlotte will be the headquarters for the combined company's East Coast banking operations, and Wachovia Securities will remain in St. Louis. Three members of the Wachovia board will join the Wells Fargo board. It will be the largest bank branch network in the United States.

In filings unsealed two days before the merger approval in a New York federal court, Citigroup argued that its own deal was better for U.S taxpayers and Wachovia shareholders. They said that they had exposed themselves to "substantial economic risk" by stating their intent to rescue Wachovia after less than 72 hours of due diligence. Citigroup had obtained an exclusive agreement in order to protect itself. Wachovia suffered a $23.9 billion loss in the third quarter.

In September 2008, the Internal Revenue Service issued a notice providing tax breaks to companies that acquire troubled banks. According to analysts, these tax breaks were worth billions of dollars to Wells Fargo. Vice Chairman Bill Thomas of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission indicated that these tax breaks may have been a factor in Wells Fargo's decision to purchase Wachovia.

Wells Fargo's purchase of Wachovia closed on December 31, 2008.