Wachovia, Wells Fargo move slowly

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The Wachovia Building probably will remain the Wachovia Building for a few years. The Wells Fargo name and stagecoach symbol aren't likely to dot the Augusta skyline soon.

Though Wachovia has been part of Wells Fargo for 19 days, Augusta market President Richard Fairey still has Wachovia in his voice-mail message.

For the next two or three years, Wachovia will operate as a subsidiary of its new owner, Mr. Fairey explained.

"We're one company but operating as two different institutions," he said. "The only thing that's changed is that if you go to a Wells Fargo ATM, you can use your Wachovia card and not get charged. Everything else operates business as usual."

San Francisco-based Well Fargo bought Wachovia Corp. for $12.7 billion. Wachovia shareholders agreed Dec. 23 to be bought, less than three months after the West Coast banking giant proposed the merger. The deal closed Dec. 31. Wells Fargo now has 11,000 locations in 39 states and 12,260 ATMs.

With the size of the financial institutions involved, it could take more than a year to integrate the companies, from computer systems to employee benefits to the kinds of checking and savings accounts offered.

One issue at the forefront of the merger is the size of the work force.

Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf said Wednesday that he does not know how many jobs will be cut but that it was a priority to keep losses at a minimum.

"There will be duplicative jobs, and there will be job loss. I know that. How many that will be, I do not know. I'm a big pro-jobs person, and the more customers we have, the more jobs we need," he told The Charlotte Observer.

The combined company employs 276,000 people. The bank employs 300 people in the Augusta area, Mr. Fairey said.

He said the good news for Augusta is that there aren't any overlapping Wachovia and Wells Fargo branches, so it is unlikely there will be any branch closings or staff reductions.

Other Wells Fargo representatives have said the bank plans to close only the branches in locations where it overlaps with Wachovia. Mr. Fairey said it is possible that staff levels in Augusta will increase.

"Wells Fargo, they staff their branches with a little more than what we do," he said. "We'll end up hiring."

Wells Fargo is taking the transition slowly.

"The key to a successful integration will be our ability to provide outstanding customer service throughout the integration," said Pat Callahan, an executive vice president and head of the company's merger transition. "So we're going to take our time and do this right.

"Wells Fargo and Wachovia customers should continue banking as they do today -- using the same bank accounts, payment coupons, online sign-on, credit cards, ATM cards and check cards, checks and banking stores."

Mr. Callahan said the bank will inform customers of significant changes ahead of time.

"They don't feel forced to do this in a calendar year. They are going to do this at a pace that makes sense," Mr. Fairey said.

That is different from other bank mergers that he has been through, most notably that of Wachovia and First Union in 2001, which had target dates specified. In all, that took two years to complete, he said.

In contrast, it took Fifth Third Bancorp only three months to complete its takeover of R-G Crown in 2007, although that was a smaller merger of 30 branches, three in Augusta.

Mr. Fairey said the transition plans are not being kept secret from Wachovia employees.

"The communications have been very clear, concise. They've been very considerate of what we're going through," he said.

The first steps have already been accomplished -- the changes at the top, naming the Wachovia members of Wells Fargo's board and putting the transition team in place.

The company will determine what product offerings work best, drawing from both Wachovia and Wells Fargo, Mr. Fairey said. The systems will be integrated before any of the signs change.

"Do that so people don't think Wachovia stuff works on Wells," he said. "No matter how similar the numbers are, that is still a big change."

For example, customers will not be able to link a Wachovia savings account as overdraft protection for a Wells Fargo checking account until after integration.

Mr. Fairey said customers he has encountered have taken the change in stride. He said they seem more interested in how employees are living with the transition than in the name on the door.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

MERGER TIMELINE

SEPT. 29: CitiGroup announces that it will buy the banking division of Wachovia for $2.1 billion.


OCT. 3: Wells Fargo announces that it has an agreement to buy all of Wachovia for $15.1 billion.


OCT. 6: Citi files a $60 billion lawsuit against Wells Fargo in a New York court, claiming interference (still pending).


DEC. 23: Wachovia shareholders approve a takeover by Wells Fargo.


DEC. 31: Merger with Wells Fargo is announced as complete.


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