Moving quickly to shore up its merger partner, Charter One Financial Inc. named two executives with considerable lending and retail banking experience to lead its new division in Michigan.

Cleveland-based Charter One's merger with Firstfed Michigan Corp. of Detroit is expected to close in the fourth quarter, creating the nation's fifth-largest publicly trade thrift.

Anthony V. Sisto, 39, will become the president of the Charter One Michigan division. Mr. Sisto was president of the central division of Household Bank in Prospect Heights, Ill., a unit of Household International that was sold to Star Banc Corp. Cincinnati. He will report to Mark D. Grossi, Charter One's executive vice president of retail lending.

Allen A. Backman, 41, senior vice president and manager of residential lending for Firstfed's lead Michigan subsidiary, will hold the same job in the merged bank's Michigan division. He will report to Mr. Sisto. Both men will be headquartered in Detroit.

"They really need to strengthen their (Michigan) lending operation. That has to be the primary challenge for them at this point," said Fred Cummings, analyst at McDonald & Co. Securities. "Firstfed really wasn't a lending bank."

First of Michigan Corp. analyst Tony Howard agreed. "Firstfed is more of a balance sheet player, so they weren't very strong in consumer lending. Bringing some people in from the Michigan side like they are really makes some sense," he said.

Charter One has said it would use Firstfed to jump-start retail lending in the merged bank. Officials have said that consumer lending accounts for 8% of Charter One's current assets. Charter One's goal for the merged bank: 20% of assets.

"They'll have to be much more aggressive in that area," Mr. Cummings said.

Mr. Grossi said Mr. Sisto and Mr. Backman will do just that, with Mr. Sisto bringing nearly two decades of banking experience and Mr. Backman a bridge to Firstfed and Michigan lending.

"We think we have two guys who will extend our service and sales culture in Michigan," said Mr. Grossi. "Basically, we've got the stuff, and these guys will deliver it."

Wayne R. Bopp, with Stifel, Nicholas & Co., said the task in front of the pair sounds as simple as "driving (Charter One) products through the Michigan locations." But training, systems work, and reporting structure can be difficult. "It may sound easy," said Mr. Bopp. "But it's a big undertaking."

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