Pedestrians pass in front of a Wells Fargo & Co. bank branch in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

JPMorgan Widens the Gap Over ‘Broken’ Wells Fargo

(Bloomberg) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. have long been locked in a fierce race to serve U.S. consumers. One is pulling ahead.

JPMorgan now generates $2 billion more in revenue from its consumer banking unit than its rival, after trailing Wells Fargo by almost $1 billion just two years ago. Jamie Dimon’s New York firm has also grabbed the lead on loans and profit from that business.

Almost three years of public relations struggles and regulatory scrutiny are taking a toll on Wells Fargo, which has about 450 more branches. It’s looking for a new leader after a series of scandals took down two chief executive officers. The San Francisco-based lender has said it’s stemmed the flow of customer defections and isn’t being held back by a regulatory cap on assets, at least for business it wants to pursue.

JPMorgan Widens the Gap Over ‘Broken’ Wells Fargo

The gap in performance is set to widen further in the months ahead. As they both reported quarterly earnings on Friday, Wells Fargo said companywide net interest income could drop as much as 5 percent this year. JPMorgan has predicted a jump of at least 5 percent for its comparable figure.

“Wells is a broken company that is in need of repair,” said Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “JPMorgan, on the other hand is firing on all eight cylinders and moving forward. We expect this divergence in performance to continue while Wells continues to repair its problems.”

Wells Fargo’s stock slipped 2.6 percent on Friday while JPMorgan’s jumped 4.7 percent -- the most in three years.

Wells Fargo has been reviewing account records and past complaints to address abuses, while launching ad campaigns that vow to earn back the public’s trust. JPMorgan has scooped up consumers with new offerings such as its popular Sapphire Reserve credit card.

JPMorgan Widens the Gap Over ‘Broken’ Wells Fargo

For years, Wells Fargo drove growth by pressing branch employees to sell more products to every customer, at times employing a slogan “Eight is Great.” The bank was forced to re-tool incentives and ease off quotas in the wake of its scandals and now faces a new problem: It’s been sliding behind major peers in revenue per employee. It has the largest workforce of any U.S. bank, with 262,100 people at the end of the first quarter. Headcount increased by 3,400 during the period.

On Friday, Dimon touted JPMorgan’s plan to open 90 branches this year (though it’s also paring others) and praised the bank’s consumer and community banking business for collecting a record amount of investment assets both through offices and online. Clarifying congressional testimony he gave earlier this week, he said a woman or a member of a minority group could succeed him, someday.

At Wells Fargo, consumer loans declined $3.7 billion from the prior quarter. Auto lending weakened as people paid off debts faster than they took out new loans. Credit-card loans and mortgages also slipped from the prior quarter, which the bank characterized as a seasonal move. On the bright side, mortgage applications rose to $64 billion from $48 billion, spurred by lower rates.

Interim CEO Allen Parker said he’s focused on “serving our customers and supporting our Wells Fargo team members; meeting and exceeding the expectations of our regulators; and continuing the important transformation of the company.”

The bank said it hired an outside search firm to find his permanent replacement.

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