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Bank meetings shift to the city of Mormons

Christina Rexrode, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Salt Lake City? Seriously?

The annual spring ritual of bank shareholder meetings is starting this week, and two major banks — San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and New York-based Goldman Sachs — are decamping from their hometown cities to Utah's capital.

If the cross-pollination of Mormons and mammon seems strange, it's because the two banks historically have held the meetings in their headquarter cities. This is the first time that either has pulled up stakes for SLC.

The banks say it's because they like to rotate their meetings among the big cities where they have major operations. The banks' critics say they're just trying to avoid the wrath of protesters.

Wells Fargo points out that it's been doing business in Salt Lake since the 1850s, when it was shuttling people, merchandise and money across the country in stagecoaches. It says it has nearly 4,000 employees in Utah, or 1.5 percent of its total, and calls Salt Lake City a great venue.

Goldman Sachs points out that Salt Lake City is its second-largest office in the U.S., behind only the New York/New Jersey area. It has about 1,500 employees there, 5 percent of the worldwide total.

Goldman is big on the city. The location is low cost compared with places like New York or L.A. (or "high value," as the bank puts it), there's a highly educated pool of talent, and it's a good way to attract employees who want a lifestyle more relaxed than NYC's.

It's also helpful, the bank says, to have U.S. employees in another time zone to interact with colleagues around the world, and as a backup during emergencies or natural disasters. For example, Salt Lake City temporarily took over some of the New York operations during Superstorm Sandy.

And it notes that for West Coast shareholders, trekking to SLC is more convenient than coming all the way to New York.

Marty Carpenter, spokesman at the Salt Lake Chamber, hadn't heard the news until he got a call from The Associated Press, but he was stoked to learn it.

"Great," Carpenter said. "We're very excited to host events like that."

Um, really? Shareholder meetings aren't exactly known for razzmatazz. They're where shareholders vote on things like approving the company's choice of accountant.

Well, OK. "This is not the 2002 Winter Olympics or anything like that," Carpenter acknowledged, before rattling off a list of attractions in the area: world-class ski resorts, mountain air, an expanding light rail, low unemployment and a diverse economy.

Since the financial crisis in 2008, shareholder meetings have often drawn protesters with placards bemoaning the banks' government bailout loans, foreclosures and high pay.

A group called 99% Power planned to caravan to Salt Lake City to protest at Wells Fargo's meeting on Tuesday, but was none too pleased about the change in venue, saying it was just the bank's attempt to avoid them.

"You can run, but you can't hide," it said in a statement.

Wells Fargo has been holdings its shareholder meetings in its headquarters city of San Francisco since at least 1999. Goldman, whose annual meeting isn't until May 23, has taken baby steps away from its traditional venue of lower Manhattan, until this year's giant leap. It moved to Jersey City for 2011 and 2012.

JPMorgan Chase has taken a similar tack. In 2011, it moved its annual meeting from New York to Columbus, Ohio. This year, it will be in Tampa, Fla., for the second year in a row.

Morgan Stanley had already moved its shareholder meeting out of Manhattan by the time the financial crisis imploded. This is the eighth year in a row that it will hold its meeting upstate in Westchester County.

Bank of America and Citigroup have been the exceptions. Bank of America has been meeting in its hometown of Charlotte, N.C., every year since 1998. Citigroup has been staying in its hometown of New York City since at least 1994, except for a foray to Dallas last year.