Wachovia to Wells Fargo switch progressing smoothly

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After merging with Wachovia Corp. 18 months ago, Wells Fargo & Co. is taking a cue from the weather.

The San Francisco-based bank is moving west to east as it makes changes in the markets served by Wachovia. As a result, customers in northeastern Pennsylvania will benefit from experience when the signs here change from Wachovia to Wells Fargo, according to a local bank executive. The conversion is expected to take place in 2011.
“From a systems standpoint, Wells Fargo is being very deliberate,” said Greg Collins, Wachovia’s community bank president for northeastern Pennsylvania. “Their mantra is ‘test and learn,’ and I think things are going to go very well.”

Wells Fargo is not entirely new to Pennsylvania. Before merging with Wachovia, the bank had mortgage and investment offices scattered around the Keystone State, including a handful in the northeast. But its retail banking operations centered primarily in the western United States.

Wachovia, which was based in North Carolina, began operating branches in Pennsylvania after merging with First Union Corp. nearly a decade ago. As of June 2008, Wachovia enjoyed nearly a 17 percent market share in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, second only to PNC Bank, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But Wachovia suffered heavy losses in the subprime mortgage market, and Wells Fargo agreed to buy it in 2008.

The combined entity operates more than 10,000 branches across the country and has $1.2 trillion in assets, making it one of the country’s largest banks. It employs more than 300 people in its northeastern Pennsylvania region, which is headquartered in Kingston.

After the merger, Wachovia branches kept their names. But other changes have taken place. Wachovia Securities, for instance, converted to Wells Fargo Advisors.
Behind the scenes, job categories also have shifted. Starting last fall, Wachovia employees in northeastern Pennsylvania matched their jobs to positions in the Wells Fargo system.

No jobs were lost in any of the region’s 39 branches, according to Collins, even though not every job was a perfect match between the two companies.

For example, Wachovia employs financial center managers at its branches, while Wells Fargo employs store managers. The difference goes beyond simple terminology, according to Collins.

Wachovia’s financial center managers were primarily responsible for service, Collins said. Wells Fargo’s store managers oversee sales performance, service performance and operational soundness.

“They are charged to run it like they own it,” Collins said, adding that the former Wachovia managers have been excited about the change in their roles and the training that comes with it.

Later this year, meanwhile, Wachovia will retool its ATMs to accept deposits without the need for customers to use envelopes. Next year, deposit accounts will convert and the name will change to Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo brings with it a reputation as a strong financial company, said Alan Dakey, president and chief executive officer of Peoples National Bank in Halstead.
Nonetheless, the name change could create opportunities for the region’s smaller community banks like Peoples, which has about $530 million in assets and 11 branches in Pennsylvania and New York, Dakey said.

“You’re going through yet another change, new systems, new policies, at some point new accounts, new fee structures. So things will change,” Dakey said. “And I don’t know that they’re changing to improve the experience of the customer.”

Collins, however, was confident Wachovia customers will react favorably. Wells Fargo is taking a deliberate approach to the conversion and bank employees in northeastern Pennsylvania will continue to deliver the same high level of customer service, he said.
“We believe that the customer will have a very valuable experience with our bankers in Wachovia, soon to be Wells Fargo,” said Collins, who has worked in the region for nearly three decades.

In addition to good service, customers will have access to a nationwide network of ATMs and the products of a larger organization, Collins said. “We have the best of both worlds.”

The bank also plans to continue its involvement in local communities. As they did last fall, each Wachovia branch in the region is planning to donate $1,000 to a nonprofit in its area, Collins said.