Wells Fargo will close its Jefferson bank in July. HERALD FILE PHOTO

Wells Fargo closing bank in Jefferson

Wells Fargo acquired Brenton Bank in 2000

By ANDREW McGINN

a.mcginn@beeherald.com

For Shelly Thornton, the big benefit of banking with Wells Fargo was obvious: its size.

“For us, Wells Fargo was a better deal because they’re all over,” said Thornton, a local paralegal and real estate agent.

One place Wells Fargo Bank won’t be after July 14 is Jefferson.

The bank is permanently closing its Jefferson branch on that day at noon, according to a letter being mailed to customers.

The letter — which states that the company occasionally needs to make changes to its branch network in order to “provide convenient banking options” — suggests online banking and the Wells Fargo Mobile app to Jefferson customers, and also directs them to the Perry branch, which will remain open.

“That puts a burden on individuals and businesses,” Thornton said.

A financial services behemoth, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo touts that it serves 1 in 3 U.S. households, and it had about $1.9 trillion in assets as of December. The company was third in total deposits in 2020, according to FDIC data.

Wells Fargo has been at 200 W. State St. in Jefferson since 2000, when the company acquired Brenton Banks Inc., whose $2 billion in assets at that time made it the largest Iowa-based banking company.

Longtime customers like Thornton have more questions than the company’s letter has answers.

“Now we have to drive to Perry to deposit money?” she wondered. “I am not depositing cash in an ATM. You have no recourse.”

Those with a safe deposit box were to receive a separate letter.

Local branch manager Omega Sang said Monday she couldn’t comment..

Thornton also wonders about customers like her 85-year-old mom, who doesn’t own a computer.

“You’ve got elderly people who don’t understand online banking,” she said.

For her part, though, Thornton doesn’t immediately plan to switch banks.

“I’m going to see how it goes,” she said.

Thornton admittedly doesn’t care for some of Wells Fargo’s corporate policies and also noted its fake account scandal in 2016, in which employees over a period of years opened millions of accounts in customers’ names without their knowledge in order to meet unrealistic sales goals. Wells Fargo was forced early last year to pay $3 billion to settle criminal charges and a civil lawsuit stemming from the fake accounts.

Nevertheless, Thornton was a satisfied customer of the Jefferson branch.

“I love the employees,” she said. “They’re the nicest people. I feel sorry for them.”

The departure of Wells Fargo will potentially leave a stylish vacant building at the corner of State and Vine.

Built in 1976 as Jefferson State Bank, the building was heralded at the time for its energy efficiency, and it looked cool doing it — complete with a circular, sunken customer lounge.

Jefferson State Bank was originally chartered by the Brenton holding company in 1926 following the collapse of Jefferson Savings Bank.

Jefferson by the mid-1920s had five banks, all of which fell victim to the era’s bank crashes. Jefferson Savings Bank was the last to fold, leaving Jefferson without any bank for two months. The press called it “the largest town in Iowa without a bank.”

Nearly a century later, Jefferson still has three banks: Home State Bank, Peoples Bank and newcomer Heartland Bank, which entered the local banking market in February 2020. Heartland has had plans to eventually build a new bank in the business park north of downtown near Jefferson Family Dentistry.

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