Dozens of Wells Fargo Insurance employees in San Francisco and San Carlos have defected to join a newly formed ABD Insurance and Financial Professionals, reclaiming the name and perhaps the culture of an influential brokerage that was acquired by Wells Fargo Insurance Services back in 2007.
Before being acquired, ABD had a significant presence in the North Bay, with a good deal of the area's insurance brain trust coming out of the brokerage. Subsequently, top North Bay insurance executives landed at Woodruff & Sawyer in Novato, two joined EPIC to start a Petaluma branch and other longtime North Bay professionals remained with Wells Fargo.
While the shifting employees -- said to range between 50 and 75 people -- are in the South Bay and in San Francisco, the move to inject another large brokerage into the landscape has implications throughout the Bay Area and had North Bay brokers abuzz with curiosity and speculation.
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo isn't going down without a fight -- it filed a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement, false advertising and unfair competition in U.S. District Court in San Francisco recently, with the intent of stopping ABD from using the name.
"We definitely feel we have a strong case," Wells Fargo spokeswoman Katie Ellis said.
The new ABD is being headed by Brian Hetherington, a former Wells Fargo executive who came with the original acquisition, and co-founders Kurt de Grosz and Eric Alburger, who are sons of two founding partners from the original Alburger Basso de Grosz company.
Mr. de Grosz had noticed the ABD trademark expired in October 2011, according to Mr. Hetherington, who left Wells Fargo in January of this year.
"So the genesis of ABD started then," he said.
Mr. Hetherington said he and his ABD co-founders were in negotiations with Wells Fargo about purchasing a portion of the business but, he said, Wells Fargo discontinued talks.
Despite the lawsuit, Mr. Hetherington said he had nothing but respect for his former employer.