Local flavor rides in on Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo, which brands itself with a stagecoach, has been rolling quietly in South Carolina to transform the state's largest bank, Wachovia.

Many of the changes made by Wells Fargo in the year since buying Wachovia have been more or less behind the scenes. The San Francisco bank added a few new division leaders in the state and changed the names of its stock brokerage and mortgage arms.

On Tuesday, the bank took more public steps. Wells Fargo is adding 400 workers in the state by year's end, raising its total employment by 13 percent, Wachovia's South Carolina president Rick Redden said in an interview.

About 200 will join the call center on Greystone Boulevard. Another 55 will be added into branches and administration in the Midlands.

The bank also began upgrading automated-teller machines statewide Tuesday. Work began on an ATM in Anderson. The first new ATMs arrive in Columbia the first week of March. About 200 machines will get upgraded statewide through April.

The machines will be able to take large stacks of cash or checks at a single time for deposits without envelopes and offer customers a menu of shortcuts based on how they used ATMs in the past, Redden said.

They also will sell stamps, and the bank can add messages to the machines to promote local charities, he said.

The machines will still have the familiar blue, green and white Wachovia logo, albeit with the tagline, "A Wells Fargo Company." Signs on the machines will switch over to Wells Fargo's red and gold colors in the second half of 2011 when branches also change, Redden said.

With its work force, the bank has added 100 employees to its nearly 3,100 statewide in the past six months and will add another 300 in 2010, Redden said.

Wells Fargo is replenishing some of Wachovia's lean staffing after the bank struggled from the troubled merger with subprime lender Golden West.

The extra local bodies also come from Wells Fargo backing more decentralized management than Wachovia, Redden said. Operations once based at Wachovia's headquarters in Charlotte are going into local regions, he said.

Redden said he has 45 managers reporting to him versus the low 30s under Wachovia. "Senior leadership is closer to customers," he said.

That gives Wells Fargo the best of both worlds, Midlands market president Holt Chetwood said - a big bank with big talent yet with the responsiveness of a smaller bank.

Wells Fargo has some work to do. The bank has lost business from customers stung by Wachovia's floundering through 2008. "It hurt, and we deserved it," Redden said of Wachovia.

The latest merger - the third involving Wachovia since the 1991 purchase of South Carolina National - has been used to woo away some customers.

Wachovia lost nearly $230 million in deposits between June 2008 and June 2009, while its market share fell to an eight-year low, according to FDIC data. However, the bank is doing better in Columbia as deposits and market share rose during the same time.

But Wells Fargo hopes a bit of local flavor will help win over customers, Redden said.

Wells Fargo's operations feature employees who have worked at Wachovia, First Union and South Carolina National. Because Wells Fargo is entering a new market, there has not been the employee turnover from mergers by banks with a large presence in the state.

"The bank feels more like South Carolina National than we have seen in years," Redden said.