Wachovia name survives, but not for long

By Dan Beyers
Monday, June 14, 2010

Talk to enough bankers in the Washington area about the competitive landscape and their plans for the future, and one institution's name comes up time and again as ripe for the pickings -- Wachovia.

Part of this is history. Wachovia once was the region's biggest traditional bank, particularly in Northern Virginia, and it experienced one of the biggest falls from the collapse of the financial markets, losing nearly 20 percent of deposits locally from June 30, 2007, to June 30, 2009.

The bank also is biding its time until mid- to late-2011, when branches here formally change their name to Wells Fargo, which bought the franchise in 2008. Some competitors regard that waiting period as an opportunity to pounce. After all, how much money does Wells Fargo want to spend promoting a dinosaur brand?

But beware sleeping giants.

"There seems to be a lot of targets on my back," laughed George D. Swygert Jr., Wachovia's regional president for greater Washington. "But I think the [renewed competition] makes business for all us."

Customers may not notice, but there is a lot going on under the hood at Wachovia. The bank is moving more personnel into its branches, or "stores" in the company vernacular, part of a Wells Fargo high-touch philosophy. Since the merger, the bank has added 300 people in the region.

The branches are also undergoing a technology overhaul, to bring in Wells Fargo systems. In fact, the region's ATMs are really the parent company's ATMs with Wachovia signage covering up the Wells Fargo name. That technology is key to Wells Fargo's philosophy of using customer data to sell people on new services and financial products.

Swygert calls it the "green button" that flashes a note on a teller's screen advising that a customer might be a candidate for a particular product.

And while the Wachovia name still graces the bank's 129-branch network in the area, plenty of other services are now operating in the region under the Wells Fargo brand, including the institution's wealth management, mortgage, insurance, retail brokerage, commercial banking, Small Business Administration lending, credit card, commercial real estate and trust services.

Bert Ely, a banking consultant, said Wachovia benefits from having a new owner that did not have a presence in the metropolitan area.

Wells Fargo is "coming in fresh, and those types of mergers tend to do better than those where there is overlap," Ely said.

When two banks have overlapping territories, branches are often closed and people forced out of jobs as the organizations meld, affecting customer relationships.

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