Business Monday: Wachovia transitioning to Wells Fargo bank in Southwest Florida

The former Wachovia on Pelican Bay Boulevard as well as all the Southwest Florida Wachovia branches will make the transition to Wells Fargo over the July 9 weekend. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

The former Wachovia on Pelican Bay Boulevard as well as all the Southwest Florida Wachovia branches will make the transition to Wells Fargo over the July 9 weekend. David Albers/Staff

A long journey is coming to an end.

In a long-anticipated move, Wachovia will officially become Wells Fargo in Naples and the rest of Southwest Florida over the July 9 weekend. That’s when the new signs will come out of hiding. “They are all changed. They are just covered,” said Laura Wrenn, community bank president for Collier and Lee counties.

Wells Fargo completed its merger with Wachovia Bank in December 2008. But Wells Fargo, the successor bank, deliberately took its time with the conversion of Wachovia’s branches.

“This is the largest merger in American financial history. We wanted to do it right for our customers. We are customer-centric,” Wrenn said.

Wells Fargo’s signature red and gold colors have replaced the blue and green in Wachovia’s branches. New furniture has been moved in and the branches have a more open, warmer feel about them, bringing compliments from customers. “It was a welcome new look for the Naples area,” said Kathy Harrison, a vice president and communications manager for Wells Fargo in Florida.

The changes are not just cosmetic. Wells Fargo offers additional services and products including more checking and savings account options and ExpressSend, an economical international money transfer service to 15 countries.

Wells Fargo also has computer stations at its branches where customers can access wellsfargo.com to check their accounts balances. “We’re bringing that back,” Wrenn said.

Wachovia’s former customers will have access to more ATMs, which no longer require envelopes for check or cash deposits.

Nationally, Wells Fargo has more than 9,000 stores and 12,000 ATMs.

“We are the largest bank branch network, not only in Florida, but in the USA, so when this merger is complete that is a huge piece for our customers. The convenience of the branch network is very impactful,” Wrenn said.

In Southwest Florida, Wachovia’s former customers can use their check cards until they expire and won’t need new checks until they run out. With Wells Fargo’s first conversions in other states this was not the case, creating headaches for customers.

“Frankly, that was not good and it impacted the customers,” Wrenn said. “Immediately we changed that practice.”

The goal in the transition is to bother the customer as little as possible. On the July 9 weekend, the Wachovia accounts will move from one system to another.

“The people will be the same. The systems will be different. But those are the things that will be transparent to the customers,” Harrison said.

Bank employees underwent extensive training for the conversion including classroom instruction and practice nights.

As part of the conversion, Wells Fargo has hired more tellers and bankers in Southwest Florida. “We have grown our staff 30 percent since January,” Wrenn said. “So that’s a great number.”

The hiring hasn’t stopped.

Former Wachovia customers have received welcome packages in the mail detailing the transition of their accounts to Wells Fargo.

A celebration for the “arrival of Wells Fargo” will be held Tuesday at its Naples store off Pelican Bay Boulevard. The event will include a parade and give-aways. Checks will also be presented to local charities.

In Lee and Collier counties, Wells Fargo has 48 branches, with another eight in Charlotte County. But they aren’t the only ones converting on the upcoming weekend. A little more than 300 branches will undergo the same transition in Florida.

In June, branches in northern, central Florida and the Tampa area became Wells Fargo stores. Next weekend is the second and final phase for Florida. Then will come other states including Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Florida has more stores than any other state,” Harrison said, pointing out there are nearly 700.

The first states to convert were Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

In Lee and Collier counties, five of Wells Fargo’s branches will have murals showing local history, a part of recent changes with the transition. The bank collaborated with leaders at the Collier County Museum and with the Naples Historical Society on the designs.

“They enlisted our help to get some pictures that would represent local history,” said Naomi Goren, a museum assistant for Collier County. The museum provided four photographs.

There is hope the murals will spark more interest in local history. One of them is of Barron Gift Collier, a pioneering entrepreneur for which Collier County was named.

“It’s sort of like history on the go,” Goren said. “Customers are waiting in line at the bank and they can learn a little bit about Collier County history.”

Wells Fargo will continue its community involvement. The bank has plans to create volunteer chapters in Lee and Collier counties that will encourage its employees to get involved and link them up with nonprofits.

The bank has 915 employees in the five-county region. It has no branches in Hendry or Glades counties.

Susan McManus, the executive director of The Education Foundation of Collier County, said Wachovia has long been a supporter of her organization, recently providing a two-year grant to help it build a new and improved website. She expects that support to continue with the Wells Fargo transition.

“We are just as a community very fortunate they are committed to their community,” McManus said. “Sometimes, during a merger, you’re not sure what the new corporate philosophy will be.”

She said it makes sense for the bank to help the foundation, which supports the area’s public schools, teachers and students through programs, grants and scholarships.

“Educational prosperity is the best indicator of economic prosperity,” McManus said. “You are going to have a clear correlation there.”

Connect with Laura Layden at naplesnews.com/staff/

laura_layden

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Q&A with Laura Wrenn, community bank president for Wells Fargo in Lee and Collier counties

What changes can customers expect?

While our name will change, our commitment to our customers and the community will not change. Customers can expect to see the red and gold colors and logo of Wells Fargo, new signage and branding, an open floor plan designed to create a more open, inviting environment, and an online banking station in each store. In many of our stores we have also installed murals that reflect the history of the community. What will not change, however, are the same familiar faces of tellers and bankers in the stores and the same high level of customer service.

Will Wachovia bank members need a new Wells Fargo card?

No. Wachovia customers can continue to use their Wachovia check card until it expires. They will then receive a new Wells Fargo card.

What does Wells Fargo offer that’s different from Wachovia?

For consumers, Wells Fargo offers an expanded array of products and services including more checking package options, identity theft protection, renters insurance, envelope-free ATMs, and a service called ExpressSend, an economical remittance service to 15 countries.

Will customers need to sign anything for the changeover?

No, customers will not need to sign anything at conversion.

Will branch hours change?

No. Store (branch) hours will remain the same.

Since Wells Fargo is larger than Wachovia, will customers have access to more ATMs where they won’t have to pay a fee?

Yes, customers will have access to North America’s most extensive distribution system for financial services with more than 9,000 stores and 12,000 ATMs, along with online banking at wellsfargo.com.

Will customers receive anything in the mail or email on the changes?

Customers began receiving communications in the mail earlier this year including a comprehensive “Welcome Package,” which provides details on the transition of their accounts. Online customers also received email messages.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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