Bank CEOs Can't Agree on How Scared They Should Be of Amazon

  • Tech titans have an edge with consumers, bank leaders concede
  • But Wells Fargo’s Sloan sees opportunities for partnerships

How Jeff Bezos Became the King of E-Commerce

Amazon.com Inc.’s been plowing into industry after industry, and executives atop some of the biggest U.S. banks are hoping finance won’t be the next target for disruption.

The tech juggernaut and others like it would have several advantages if they decide to edge into financial services, including strong funding and familiarity with their users, said Andy Cecere, chief executive officer of U.S. Bancorp, the nation’s fifth-biggest commercial bank.

“That is something that we all have to be very cognizant of and make sure we don’t lose our place in that relationship,” Cecere told bankers and regulators Tuesday at a conference in New York.

Companies such as Amazon, Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. have already proven adept at upending industries from telecommunications to advertising, and Amazon in particular is often blamed for the troubles of brick-and-mortar retailers. A fear in finance is that the trio might try to sideline banks by handling more of their customers’ electronic payments, offering financing or even accepting deposits -- even if those services open them up to more regulation.

Such creep is already apparent, said Greg Carmichael, CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp. Amazon has flexed its muscles by lending to small businesses, originating more than $3 billion in loans to merchants selling on its marketplace by June of this year.

Wells Fargo & Co. CEO Tim Sloan, in contrast, said he sees Silicon Valley’s interest in finance as an opportunity to partner.

“I don’t think Apple fundamentally wants to become a bank. I don’t think Amazon wants to become a bank,” Sloan said. “We’ve got a big opportunity to work even more closely with them to be able to understand what their customer needs and see if we can provide those.”

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