Having a bank account is a core part of our financial lives, but choosing the right instiution can be tricky. In this article, I'll compare the pros and cons of two of America's largest banks: Wells Fargo (WFC -3.06%) and Bank of America (BAC -2.48%).
A bit about bank safety
Before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was created in 1933, picking a bank meant accepting that if it went under, your money could disappear. Nowadays, ordinary bank account holders have their first $250,000 covered by the FDIC, essentially meaning that small bank accounts are backed by the federal government.
Assuming you put less than $250,000 in your account, bank safety is not a major part of a Wells Fargo versus Bank of America comparison.
Wells Fargo and Bank of America have some of the largest branch networks in the U.S. today. In this category, Wells Fargo's 6,200 locations edge out Bank of America's roughly 5,100.
But both banks have been looking to change the branch model of banking. With so much being done online now, cutting branch-related costs is a focus.
Wells Fargo is doing this by creating minibranches, which are about half the size of regular branches but feature the latest technology, including tablets and folding walls.
Bank of America has reacted to the growth in online banking with branch cuts and sales. At the same time, the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank is under pressure from investors who want cost reductions and generally approve of shedding branches.
Both Wells Fargo and Bank of America have created mobile banking apps to cash in on the trend toward mobile usage and online banking. Not surprisingly, they share many of the same features, including access to your account, bill payment, and the ability to transfer funds and deposit checks.
When it comes to device flexibility, Bank of America has the edge. While the Wells Fargo app can be downloaded onto iPhones, iPads, Android products, and the Windows Phone, Bank of America's app is available on all these platforms, as well as Kindle Fire and BlackBerry.
Investment account connection
As two of the largest banks in the U.S., Wells Fargo and Bank of America have extensive investment sides in addition to their retail banking.
Along with wealth management and other managed investment services, both banks offer self-directed accounts. Wells Fargo has WellsTrade and Bank of America has Merrill Edge branded around the Merrill Lynch unit it acquired during the financial crisis.
Merrill Edge is cheaper at $6.95 per trade, compared to WellsTrade at $8.95 per trade (although WellsTrade offers $6.95 trades for those meeting additional requirements). Both platforms used to offer a number of free trades for customers with $25,000 in assets, but WellsTrade discontinued that practice last year. Merrill Edge still offers up to 30 free trades per month, but $25,000 must be held either as cash in your Merrill Edge account or as a balance in a Bank of America account.
Wells Fargo and Bank of America are among the largest in the world, and their competition for depositors' money continues. Both banks are transitioning more toward online and mobile banking with the development of mobile apps and the reshaping of their branch networks.
Interestingly, even though Wells Fargo and Bank of America are archrivals, Warren Buffett has taken multibillion stakes in each. Decide for yourself whether joining Buffett by investing in one of these banks is right for you after reading Battle of the Buffett Stocks: Wells Fargo vs. Bank of America.