Andy Anderson: Wells Fargo official historian helps bank woo rich private clients

Historians in the News

Early this month, 71-year-old Philip Herzog gathered with his two brothers and several descendants in the spartan conference room of the family's kosher wine firm. A representative of the company's bank was coming to make a presentation -- not about the Herzogs' business, but about their family tree.

"Your family has a history of great tragedy, but also great joy," said Andy Anderson, the chief historian at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. Bringing out books and documents, Dr. Anderson told how the Herzogs, highly regarded winemakers in Slovakia, had lost their relatives and family fortune in the Holocaust before fleeing Czechoslovakia as Communists took control.

Mr. Herzog and his brothers, Orthodox Jews steeped in their family's history, knew much of this already. Then Dr. Anderson handed Mr. Herzog a copy of the passenger manifest from a Pan American Airways charter that left Prague on June 2, 1948. Among its 36 names were Mr. Herzog's father, mother and five siblings.

"What is this!" Mr. Herzog gasped. He sat silently, pressing his fingers to his closed eyelids, holding the evidence of a flight to a new life in New York when he was 12. "Where did you find this?"

The moment was another small triumph for Dr. Anderson, the corporate historian for Wells Fargo. In recent years, the former Stanford University history fellow has turned genealogical research into an unusual marketing vehicle: After Dr. Anderson taps into rich families' fascination with their forebears, the bank aims to turn them into customers for its private-banking arm. By Wells Fargo's estimate, Dr. Anderson has had a hand in developing relationships that have led to $1 billion in new assets for the bank.

Private banking, long the bailiwick of trust banks or blue-blood institutions like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., has recently become a fiercer battleground. Trillions of dollars in personal fortunes are expected to be transferred in the next 50 years as baby boomers pass their wealth to the next generation.

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