Wells Fargo said it's seeing results from initiatives aimed at boosting its share of business lending in New Jersey.
Wells Fargo began forming a team of business sales officers in late 2011 "to do nothing but hunt full-time for new customers," said Alan Wyosnick, senior vice president and business banking area manager. From three such officers at the end of 2011, the team grew to 10 last year, and Wells Fargo plans to add four more in 2013.
Both Wyosnick and John P. Cole, executive vice president, oversee the bank's business banking division, which deals with companies ranging from $2 million to $20 million in sales.
The bank said lending to New Jersey companies in that size range rose 38 percent in 2012 compared with 2011. About half that growth resulted from Wells Fargo gaining market share form other banks, while half represents increased lending to businesses, Cole said.
The new team of business sales officers represents a new approach to business development Wells Fargo has brought to New Jersey since acquiring Wachovia in 2009. Cole said Wachovia's model was to have its business relationship managers seek out new business while serving existing clients.
The improving economy is resulting in improved business performance, and hence more willingness among business owners to invest, according to the bankers.
Wyosnick said businesses are finding that "this is a great time to think about a long-term strategy" that involves buying new facilities or equipment. "Prices are low and interest rates are low, and people perceive that now is the time to think seriously" about making a move.
Wyosnick said the bank is seeing 2012 business financial statements, and "in the majority of cases, we are seeing a growth in sales. That is a good sign, and for those that feel the stability of growth, they are going ahead and buying that building or piece of equipment that they deferred for three or four years."
Cole said the results vary considerably from one industry to another, "but generally, 2012 feels better than 2011. There are pockets, like health care, that are strong; there is data to suggest the manufacturing sector in New Jersey is coming back; and construction and contracting, particularly post-Sandy, is showing growth."
Wells Fargo also said it making a major effort to increase loans backed by the Small Business Administration. Wyosnick said the bank ranked fourth in New Jersey in the four months ended Jan. 31 by number of SBA loans. The bank added a fourth SBA banker in the tristate region last year, and also added a fourth specialist in equipment lending.