Wells Fargo and its iconic stagecoach are pulling into town for good, just as another old hand of the Charleston banking industry fades into the sunset.
The financial giant's name and colors will be unveiled at Wachovia's 148 branches and 261 automated teller machines throughout South Carolina after the close of business today, capping a lengthy transition that began near the height of the 2008 global financial crisis.
The roughly 50 Wachovia walk-in offices in the state that offer weekend hours will become Wells Fargo "stores" on Saturday morning, said Rick Redden, president of the lender's South Carolina operations.
The rest will open under the new name Monday.
Wachovia has about 25 branches in the Charleston area.
"We're a thousand days-plus into this and were excited to be here," Redden said Thursday. "This is a big weekend for us."
The changeover is notable because of the large number of consumers and businesses Wachovia counts as clients. The company is considered the largest financial institution in South Carolina based on its $11.6 billion share of deposits, including more than $2.4 billion in the Charleston region.
It also is a sizable employer, with 6,025 workers around the Palmetto State, where it has been a marquee player in the banking business for most of the past 20 years.
The weekend changeover will not directly affect most customers, who can continue using their Wachovia-issued debit cards, credit cards and checks, officials said. One exception: Information for online accounts will have to be updated as of Saturday.
At a Wachovia ATM on Maybank Highway, Michelle Johnson of James Island said her bank's long-awaited change to the Wells Fargo brand "doesn't bother me as long as they don't mess with my money."
"They sent this packet," Johnson added. "Guess what I haven't done? Read the packet."
Redden said the switch from Wachovia to Wells Fargo unfolded at a deliberately slow pace. The retail bank operations were the final piece of the plan.
Drawing from its eight previous Wachovia changeovers, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo has ironed out most of the kinks, Redden said. South Carolina is the ninth state to make the switch. Wachovia's former home base of North Carolina will be the 10th and last.
"The trade-off in having a three-year process to get here has been that all the behind-the-scenes stuff has gotten tucked into place so that the customer gets a positive experience," Redden said.
Crippled by mortgage missteps, a badly wounded Wachovia was snapped up by the bigger and much stronger Well Fargo near the height of the financial crisis in late 2008. It was the largest bank merger in U.S. history,
Redden, a career Wachovia banker, acknowledged it "was a tough couple of years before this acquisition."
"A brand we were very proud of and had grown up under certainly took a lot of negative press and had made decisions that didn't work out.," he said.
Now, Redden is "glad to carry a Wells Fargo business card."
"My whole career I've only had Wachovia on my business card, and lot of our team members are that same way. But here's the thing: The philosophy that guided Wachovia is extremely similar to the Wells Fargo culture."
Unlike some mergers, the Wachovia-Wells Fargo marriage resulted in more than 500 jobs being added across the state over the couple of years. Employee and management turnover has been minimal.
Also, bankers have access to a greater selection of services and financial products, said Len Hutchison III, president of the Wells Fargo's Charleston area operations. He said the decentralized "community bank" business model enables executives to make most major decisions, from loans to philanthropy budgets, at the local level.
"There is very little we have to go out of the market for," Hutchison said.
Warren Wise contributed to this report. Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.