July 14, 2003

Big bank mergers have often brought with them tales of woe from customers ill served as a result of the integration of people, technology and operations. Such nightmares the integration team at Wachovia and First Union wanted to avoid.

And they've done a fantastic job at making the merger work, in the opinion of Guenther Hartfeil, director of corporate data management and governance at the Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia Corporation.

Hartfeil, a five-year veteran at the "legacy Wachovia," now manages the client and risk information databases for the combined entity, drawing upon his prior experiences at Bank One and BankBoston. He reports to David Carroll, head of corporate support services and one of the co-heads of the operating committee supervising the merger.

The operating committee "developed strategies and the targeted environment we were shooting for very early on," said Hartfeil. "We had a much more coordinated, cohesive effort in the front line than the two individual banks had had before that."

In establishing that committee, CEO Kennedy Thompson emphasized that Wachovia's customer strategy was to approach the market as one organization, rather than an umbrella brand for disparate entities. "The customer doesn't see us as an org structure," said Hartfeil. "They see us as a bank, or a financial institution, or a brokerage firm, depending on who they're dealing with. We need to make sure that we're viewing ourselves the same way that the customer's viewing us."

To provide IT support to that business strategy, the combined entity built a "bridge" between the information systems at each legacy organization. "We did that right at the onset, so that the field understood who their customers were, where they banked, and which of their customers banked at both locations," said Hartfeil.

Since there was a good deal of overlap between the two companies pre-merger, there was a risk that customers would either suffer a lapse in service, or potentially just as damaging, too much service. To stave off these potential difficulties, Wachovia established business rules "so that not everybody's contacting the customer, and you're not overwhelming the customer," said Hartfeil. "We really wanted to contact the customers as often as possible ahead of any changes that occurred with them."