SAN FRANCISCO - Wells Fargo & Co. announced late Monday that it has completed the conversion of its California branches to the computer systems that the San Francisco banking company has used since it was bought by Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis in late 1998.

The California conversion, the $263.5 billion-asset banking company's largest in the two years since it started to convert old Wells Fargo and Norwest branches, affected the accounts of 8.6 million customers and 970 banking locations.

The conversion took six weeks and was the tail end of the Norwest-Wells Fargo integration. Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are the only states with legacy Norwest and old Wells Fargo systems left to undergo a conversion out of more than 20 states, and are scheduled to join the companywide platform in December.

When Norwest announced its acquisition of Wells Fargo in June 1998, taking the San Francisco bank's headquarters and name in the process, it laid out an unusually long timetable - three years, all told - for the systems conversions of the states in its network.

The company wanted to avoid the systems integration debacles that have plagued many large bank mergers, including the old Wells Fargo's integration of First Interstate Bank in 1996. It appears to be on target to beat that self-imposed deadline by about six months.

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