Wachovia-to-Wells Fargo switch kicking into high gear

COLUMBUS, Ga. — It’s been nearly 18 months since banking giant Wells Fargo bought out a financially distressed Wachovia in a deal valued at $12.7 billion.

Now the company says it will remodel branches in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee by the end of October, installing Wells Fargo signs and converting its computers from one bank system to another.

Other states along the East Coast will follow “some time in 2011,” said company spokesman Jay Lawrence. No specific timeline was given. There are approximately 25 Wachovia branches in Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to the bank’s website.

“Right now we’re just working hard to get ready for the transition,” said Chad Gregory, community bank president for the central Georgia region. “We want to make sure it’s as seamless as possible for our customers.”

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo completed its acquisition of Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia on Dec. 31, 2008. The bank has been positioning itself for consolidation into one brand and system ever since.

The renovation game plan includes new signage, paint, carpet, desks, computers and teller lines that will go in a more open layout with fewer closed offices. The next-generation technology that customers will use already includes advanced ATMs that were installed in some areas of the Southeast earlier this year.

“The teller systems are going to be a lot more efficient (and quicker) than what we have today,” Gregory said. “The banker systems are more streamlined. Whereas we may have a seven-step process to open an account before, now it’s going to be dramatically reduced with a quicker process around it.”

Plenty of employee training is also a major part of the equation, he said.

“We’re doing a lot of training behind the scenes around a process we call ‘shine,’ to really welcome our customers and make sure they’re feeling comfortable,” he said.

On the sales side, the transition to Wells Fargo will bring new products like homeowners and renters insurance, identity theft protection, payroll and merchant services and a military-only program aimed at giving those in uniform upgrades on checking accounts, loans and mortgages.