The average U.S. household has as many as 16 financial products, Wells Fargo says, from checking accounts to insurance policies. Part of Wells culture is to sell you as many of those as it can.
If our customers have these products, there isnt any reason they shouldnt have them with us, East Coast president Laura Schulte said in an interview with the Observer.
The model has found success in the first year its been fully in place in the Carolinas. Wells Fargo households on the East Coast average more than five products with the bank, one more than the average customer of Wachovia, which Wells acquired in 2008.
It has been a year since Wells Fargo finally replaced the Wachovia blue-and-green in North Carolina. And in that time it has expended considerable effort to make Charlotte feel like home.
As soon as the San Francisco bank bought the teetering Wachovia in a $15 billion deal, Charlotte leaders feared losing clout in the financial world and hemorrhaging jobs.
But Wells has kept its Charlotte employment near Wachovias pre-recession peak. In fact, Wells Fargos roughly 20,500 employees in Charlotte are more than any other city, including Wells headquarters.
The bank also reported Friday that it has put 500 more bankers in its East Coast branches over the past quarter. Overall, the retail bank and its mortgage business have propelled Wells Fargo to 10 straight quarters of record earnings, $4.7 billion in the most recent.
The conversion from Wachovia has come with costs, as well.
Despite the success, below the surface there has been a perception that Wachovias reputation of customer service has been eroded by an emphasis on cross-selling. The feeling has been backed up by a high-profile industry analyst and J.D. Power & Associates surveys.
This summer customers lost free checking theyd had with Wachovia, replaced by an account with a $7 monthly service fee that can be avoided with a $1,500 minimum balance or direct deposits.
Employees lost a few paid holidays, including Columbus Day, in the changeover.
Only two former Wachovia directors remain on the Wells Fargo board after former VF Corp. chief executive Mackey McDonald announced he was stepping down in March.
When you look at any legacy organization, you obviously have energy and excitement and fun and relationships. But what I would say is that were a better company today, Charlotte market president Kendall Alley said in an interview with the Observer.
We were here for the last sign to go down, said Alley, a Wachovia veteran. We all had the big celebration out front. It was sentimental for about the time it took to put it on the truck. Then it was time to get to work.
Last Octobers transition was the final public change in a three-year process to bring Wachovias 3,000-plus branches and 9 million retail households to the Wells Fargo network.
The measured approach was one Wells learned from the previous decade of acquisitions, not all of which went smoothly. The bank tapped Schulte, who was then West Coast president, to be the first to relocate to Charlotte and get things moving.
It was really important not to let our egos get in the way and say, This is how we do things, Schulte said.
I also wanted to make sure I recognized that the people that were employed here at the time of the merger did not cause the downfall of Wachovia. They were great bankers. Theyre still great bankers.
In regional chunks, the bank changed over customers accounts and converted branch layouts. South Carolina made the changeover in September 2011. On Oct. 15, 2011, the Wachovia banners in North Carolina came down, and the Wells Fargo red-and-yellow became the nationwide standard.
The last steps of the banks integration finished in February, when a few large corporate and wealth-management clients were converted, Schulte said.
CEO John Stumpf wrote in the banks most recent annual report that the conversion finished on schedule and under budget.
Its been as good and smooth as any transition Ive been a part of in my career, Alley said. Part of that was the agreement to take the time and not push it through.
Wells Fargo quickly bumped up its Charlotte charitable contributions budget from $5 million per year to about $7 million. Stumpf also reassured business leaders that it would keep nearly all of its headcount in the city.
A number of factors make Charlotte valuable for the company, Schulte and Alley said. The city has a lower cost of doing business than, say, San Francisco. Wachovia had a number of key business lines and functions centered here that are needed in the combined bank, like legal compliance and risk management.
Not that everythings been rosy.
Prominent bank analyst Dick Bove, a longtime Wachovia customer, made waves in July when he distributed a research note listing grievances he had with the banks unacceptable customer service. They ranged from not being greeted when he entered the branch to being passed back and forth between a teller and an 800 number.
The conclusion I reached is that service is less important than selling, wrote Bove, who gave Wells stock a buy rating in the same note.
The New York Times reported later that day that J.D. Power and Associates had ranked Wells Fargos customer service as below average in the majority of the regions the firm surveys.
Boves experience was also echoed by a number of Charlotte-area customers who contacted the Observer for this story but asked to remain anonymous. Several complained about the banks automatic bill pay, which removes money several days earlier than Wachovia did.
Employees who contacted the Observer said Wells Fargos technology is inferior to what Wachovia had and said some transactions done electronically now involve paper forms. Members of both groups have also said they felt bank managers emphasize getting customers to open more accounts and sign up for more services ahead of overall satisfaction.
The bank disputes the characterizations. Spokeswoman Aimee Worsley said the banks technology today is better than either Wachovia or Wells Fargo once had. And while cross-selling products is at the center of the company, its about giving customers better deals and service.
As a company, were very clear that we want to sell the customers the products they need and not one product more, she said.
Wells cited an American Customer Satisfaction Index that ranked Wells Fargo tops among large U.S. banks in service.
At Wells investor day in May, community banking regional president Stan Kelly said Wells Fargo had taken on Wachovias mantle of top-ranked customer service and had increased service ratings.
Schulte said the banks daily internal customer service surveys showed 80 percent of customers on average are completely satisfied with their recent branch experience.
One of the things were particularly proud of is after the conversion, we continue to grow our service levels, Schulte said. That was a hallmark of the Wachovia legacy organization. Weve rolled that out to all of Wells Fargo.