First Union Corp.'s overhaul of its consumer bank to serve customers at all stages of life is beginning to pay off, said executive vice president Jack M. Antonini.

Meeting customers' "needs and dreams for a lifetime" became First Union's mission in mid-1997, when Mr. Antonini joined as head of consumer banking from a post at First USA Inc., he said.

Mr. Antonini oversees all card products, on-line banking, call centers, mortgage and home equity lending, auto finance, deposit taking, and the Money Store subsidiary.

He said these formerly discrete units have been transformed to serve entire relationships in a coordinated way. That has "not been a simple change," Mr. Antonini said in a speech this week to an American Banker conference on customer relationship management.

He said the results are showing up in increased sales and multiproduct relationships.

One of Mr. Antonini's main goals is to strengthen ties to the 47% of customers who have only one account at Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union. They are sole-account holders for a simple reason, he said: "We never offered them a second product."

The industry's customer attrition rate is 20% a year, he said, but customers who have three or more products are five times as likely to be loyal than those who have only one.

First Union is testing marketing software that helps representatives in branches and call centers make suitable product offers. In a 1998 test of a system that identifies sales prospects from internal and external data bases, Mr. Antonini said, First Union personnel were able to close on 87% of the leads, resulting in 300,000 sales.

The company's $33 million data warehouse consolidates information on 30 million retail accounts and 10 million households. It can hold up to 24 months of transaction history.

The warehouse feeds a system called Einstein, so named because it "makes the representative look like a genius," Mr. Antonini said. It shows the full scope of a customer's relationship with the bank, including profitability details, and can help service representatives decide whether certain fees should be waived for very profitable customers.

The First Union Direct call center was responsible for 9% of product sales last year and is on track to hit 20% this year. Last December about $150 million of new loans, one-third of deposit products, and 24% of equity products were sold and closed through First Union Direct, Mr. Antonini said.

First Union's Future Bank initiative, an attempt to turn branches into sales centers, is in place at all 2,400 offices. During a yearlong pilot in 1997 in Atlanta, Mr. Antonini said, First Union increased from 31% to 39% the share of routine service inquiries handled by automated teller machines. Customer education has now pushed the figure to 44%.

First Union views branch visits as a way to teach customers about more convenient and cost-effective banking channels such as the Internet, ATMs, and call center. Mr. Antonini noted that transactions executed over the Internet cost 4 cents when development costs are factored out, versus $3 in a branch.

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