After more than 80 years, Wells Fargo is back in Alaska.
Originally a delivery company, Wells Fargo came to Alaska in 1883 when it opened seasonal offices in a few Southeast ports including Juneau. By 1911, the famous stagecoach company had expanded to 40 offices throughout the state, but left Alaska in 1918 when the federal government took over its delivery business.
With the recent purchase of the National Bank of Alaska, Wells Fargo - one of the nation's largest banking institutions - returns to the Alaska market with more than 53 branches, including three in Juneau, at 123 Seward St. downtown, 1610 Anka St. in Lemon Creek and 9150 Glacier Highway near the Juneau Airport.
Purchased by Norwest Financial in 1998, Wells Fargo announced the NBA merger in July 2000. A year later, the conversion of NBA into Wells Fargo is just about complete - including a new computer system, a huge advertising campaign and more than 400 new signs throughout the state.
"It's been a pretty smooth transition," said Karen West, branch manager of the Glacier Valley Wells Fargo bank. She has been employed by NBA for the past 13 years.
"Customers didn't have to change their account numbers. Everyone received new ATM cards in the mail and can still use their NBA checks until they order new ones," West said. "But I think what customers are really happy about it is that it's still the same people (in the bank) who have always helped them."
Despite the Wells Fargo takeover, there have been no personnel changes in Southeast at any of the former NBA banks, said Pete Crandall, community bank president for the Southeast region.
On a state level, the bank has reduced its work force of more than 1,000 employees by less than 10 percent, according to marketing manager Elaine Junge, an NBA employee for the past 14 years.
"The reductions have not affected the individual branches," Junge said from her Anchorage office. "The branches are at the same level or higher than they were previously. It's the same basic services that our customers have come to expect and a whole lot more."
The additional services include expanded online banking opportunities, a broader range of checking and savings investment choices, greater flexibility in loan options, self-directed brokerage options, insurance and mortgage programs and access to 5,400 banks and 6,735 ATM machines in 23 states, said Junge.
The Glacier Highway branch has seen an increase in customers, according to bank manager West.
"I thought the road construction outside the bank would slow down business but we've actually seen more people," said West. "People are dropping in with questions and travelers from all over the U.S. are coming in to cash a check or look into their accounts."
"We've also seen new local customers. Some of the new customers live down south part of the time and want a bank where they can transfer accounts back and forth," said West. "Another feature people really appreciate is the ability to transfer funds to college students down south. The kids can access the account immediately through a Wells Fargo ATM where they won't get nicked a fee every time they use the machine."
There have been some bumps in the road as NBA transformed into Wells Fargo.
"There have been some issues with the ATM cards," West said. "Not everyone is quick to open their mail unless it looks like a statement so there has been a little confusion. But the nice thing is we've been able to give out PIN numbers (needed to access ATMs) right here at the branch which we couldn't do before."
"Some accounts may have different fees under Wells Fargo. We tried to map NBA accounts over to the closest account that Wells Fargo offers. Customers should look at their accounts and make sure that we've mapped it correctly. If not - we'll change it," said West.
Wells Fargo's fee structure closely mirrors the policies of NBA, according to marketing manager Junge.
"Overall, the bank's fee income is decreasing slightly from NBA to Wells Fargo," said Junge. "There may be some customers paying higher or lower fees but we're working with them to find the account that better suits their needs."
While NBA's staff settle into a new routine as Wells Fargo employees, it's business as usual at Alaska Pacific Bank - one of Wells Fargo's local competitors, according to bank President Craig Dahl.
"Traditionally, community banks do very well competing with national concerns," said Dahl from his office in the Mendenhall Valley.
Headquartered in Juneau, Alaska Pacific Bank is the only publicly owned financial institution in Southeast, said Dahl.
"We have local owners amongst our depositors who have an interest in the bank's growth," said Dahl. "In Alaska, especially Southeast, there is more of an interest of who the local companies are than, let's say, Seattle or Portland. This is our home. We're the hometown institution."
"We've actually seen growth in our business as opposed to going in the other direction since the merger," added Dahl. "We've been watching the transition and we've changed some of our business practices to offer even more competitive banking services."
Across town at KeyBank, another national bank with offices in Juneau, downtown Branch Manager Win Gruening believes being a part of national financial institution has benefits.
"Joining a national bank gives you a lot more resources," said Gruening, who was involved when KeyBank took over B.M. Behrends Bank in 1989. "But people are still going to bank with the people that they feel most comfortable with, and that's not a function of how large an organization is - it's a function of the bankers they employ."
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