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Robert Trigaux

From Tampa Bay, one bank analyst's pitch to relocate Wall Street to friendlier Charlotte




Can you imagine the Gordon Gekkos of Wall Street saying, hey, let's move to Charlotte? The idea may become less crazy than it sounds in the coming years.

Wake up and good morning. Longtime banking industry analyst Richard X. "Dick" Bove (left) is never one to avoid controversy. He likes thinking outside the box. The Rochedale Securities analyst, who works out of suburban Tampa in Lutz, earlier this summer stirred the banking pot when he moved his business out of a nearby Wells Fargo branch because of lousy service -- but then wrote that customer service as a factor in a bank's performance is overblown. (Photo courtesy Rochedale Securities.)dickbovecourtesyrochedalesecurities.jpg

I'm struck by the fact that the (Wells Fargo) service is so bad, and yet the company is so good," Bove said in a July New York Times article here. "Whatever drives people to do business with a given bank, in my mind, now has to be rethought."

Last fall Bove called the consumer-driven victory against Bank of America to drop its planned $5 debit card fee a "win for Socialists." Read more here.

Now Bove's asking why Wall Street, long ensconced in downtown Manhattan, should not move to friendlier territory like Charlotte, N.C. New York's state attorney general, like his many predecessors, has been taking legal potshots at Wall Street firms and Bove suggests Wall Street take its mammoth business somewhere else.

"If the industry was located in Charlotte," Bove writes, "it would not be facing constant hostility... it would be supported by a government that wants its business."  Read more from the Bank Watch blog at the Charlotte Observer.

Bove's idea is not far fetched. Plenty of Wall Street firms have moved some of their operations out of Manhattan in order to save pricey real estate and high wage costs but also to relocate critical backroom operations further away from the likely target that New York remains in the wake of the ground zero World Trade Tower disaster delivered by terrorists. Tampa Bay's been the beneficiary of some of these moves, including those by New York's Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. now operating near Bruce B Downs and I-75, as well as JP Morgan Chase's processing services campus in Tampa. This area even toyed with the name "Wall Street South" in the wake of 9-11 when Wall Street firms became eager to send critical parts of their business to safer turf.

Charlotte, of course, likes to think of itself as a banking capital and would love nothing better than to see big investment firms thumb their noses at New York's litigious attorney general as they move to North Carolina. Charlotte is headquarters to Bank of America, courtesy of the merger mania orchestrated, brilliantly, by former NCNB/NationsBank/BofA CEO Hugh McColl. Alas, BofA has fallen on financial and reputational hard times and is only now slowly on the mend. Consider its plans to accelerate plans to cut 16,000 employees by year end.

Charlotte was also the hometown of giant First Union before it crumbled. The bank bought nearby and better run Wachovia Bank, tossed its own discredited First Union brand and became Wachovia. Then Wachovia stumbled and was bought by California's Wells Fargo.

So, yes, Charlotte is still big in banking but a shadow of its heydays in the 1990s and early 2000s. It's become political theater for New York State attorneys general -- think Eliot Spitzer before his personal downfall -- to take legal whacks at Wall Street excesses (partly because the feds rarely get off their backsides to do so). But Wall Street is steeped in serious history, which makes the idea of dislodging such an industry pretty unlikely. But not impossible.

I'm guessing Wall Street's top executives simply like the perks of working in the abundant luxury of being rich in Manhattan -- the restaurants, the prestige, the $25 million penthouses overlooking Central Park and the "weekend" home in the Hamptons.

Charlotte (like most of the country) can't quite offer similar accommodations. Not yet. But Bove's on to something. High prices, pesky government officials and better technology will increasingly press Wall Street firms to consider other locations. Why not Charlotte? Why not Tampa Bay?

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 8:08am]


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