Panthers, 49ers inspire bankers to banter and bet rrothacker@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 8, 2014 

  • A tale of two bank towns

    Bank of America and Wells Fargo have large presences in Charlotte and San Francisco. Here’s a look at the two operations in each region:

    Charlotte-area employment

    Bank of America: 15,000

    Wells Fargo: 20,500

    San Francisco-area employment

    Bank of America: 5,000

    Wells Fargo: 18,000

    Charlotte-area branches

    Bank of America: 65

    Wells Fargo: 97

    San Francisco-area branches

    Bank of America: 149

    Wells Fargo: 164

    Deon Roberts

Charles Bowman might be going to work next week looking like a bearded, pickaxe-carrying miner.

Not your typical attire for a Charlotte banking executive. But this weekend is not a typical weekend in Charlotte, either.

Sunday’s playoff game between the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers is also a battle of the bank towns, with bankers in both cities engaging in friendly bets and depositing a bit of trash talk in each other’s inboxes.

A bit of history: Charlotte’s NationsBank became Bank of America when it bought San Francisco-based BankAmerica in 1998. A decade later, San Francisco’s Wells Fargo bought Charlotte-based Wachovia. Wells still calls San Francisco home, but Charlotte is its biggest employee base.

Bowman, Charlotte market president for Bank of America, has a wardrobe-based wager going with his counterpart in San Francisco. Should the Panthers lose Sunday, Bowman has to go to his Tryon Street office dressed like Sourdough Sam, the 49ers’ mascot. If the Panthers win, Bowman’s counterpart Martin Richards has to dress like the Panthers’ Sir Purr.

Bowman’s not worried. “The Panthers are going to win, obviously.” His predicted outcome Sunday at Bank of America Stadium: Carolina, 21; San Francisco, 17.

Over at Wells Fargo, spokesman Josh Dunn reported an “uptick in friendly banter” about the game, and added diplomatically: “We encourage our team members to support the Panthers or the 49ers however they feel is appropriate and we look forward to a great game on Sunday.”

Former Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich said the playoff game is stirring up friendly rivalries within the company.

“I think it’s like everything in sports,” he said. “You enjoy the competition, and then you go out and drink beer afterwards.”

Kovacevich expects the 49ers to win by a touchdown.

At least one Wells Fargo executive who relocated from California to Charlotte is expecting the 49ers to win. Neal Crapo, who moved here last year, hasn’t been converted to the Panthers yet. He said he wants to see his team, the San Diego Chargers, play the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Sunday, he expects a score of 28-24.

Kovacevich moved to San Francisco after he merged Minneapolis-based Norwest with Wells Fargo in 1998. He said he doesn’t see a rivalry between San Francisco and Charlotte, although he says there is still animosity in that city over NationsBank’s merger with BankAmerica.

In that deal, Hugh McColl Jr., then CEO of NationsBank, stayed on as CEO. BankAmerica CEO David Coulter, who had been expected to succeed him, left after a loan to a hedge fund caused a big loss.

“It alienated team members, it alienated customers of BofA and it alienated community leaders,” Kovacevich said of that deal. “They’re still talking about the NationsBank-BofA deal.”

McColl said he will be watching Sunday’s game at Bank of America Stadium alongside team owner Jerry Richardson. McColl said he has been a season ticket holder since the stadium was built in the 1990s and attends most home games and sometimes accompanies Richardson on away games.

McColl said he has money riding on Sunday’s outcome, although he’s not trading bets with anyone in California.

“The Panthers are going to win, and I think that we have the better team,” McColl said, predicting a score of 21-17.

Football and banking, McColl said, have some similarities.

“It takes a lot of different people doing a lot of different things to be successful,” he said. “What it takes is both brains and energy.”

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts

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