With its deal for Washington Mutual Inc.'s banking business, JPMorgan Chase & Co. adds a branch network the company's retail head, Charles Scharf, said it had "coveted for a long time."

"To combine their company with ours is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Mr. Scharf said Friday morning.

Wamu, which pioneered the much-copied Occasio branch model in 2000, is as well known for its customer-friendly approach as for its recent mortgage ills.

JPMorgan Chase's reputation for customer service is less entrenched. But last week's deal punctuates a broad effort by JPMorgan in recent years to improve service. It has invested heavily in technology, opened branches to build on recent retail acquisitions, hired people, and actively sought to tie its retail network to the rest of the company through better cross-selling. It has reaped dividends from that effort, citing double-digit percentage growth in per-branch sales of banking products, credit cards, and investment products in the period 2005 to 2007.

And it has improved its scores in the University of Michigan's annual customer satisfaction survey the past three years. Last year, it was the only banking company whose score rose — by 2 points, to 74 — though the improvement was not statistically significant, the university said.

Washington Mutual, meanwhile, featured among the top five rated institutions in all the regions where it operates in the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 customer satisfaction survey of the banking industry.

"We think at Chase we can learn a lot from how Washington Mutual has done things," Mr. Scharf said Friday. He said that, as he combines the two networks over the next year and a half, he would look to combine "the best products, the best ways of doing business, the best people so that we each come out of this a much stronger consumer, small-business, and commercial bank than we were going in."

The deal, which JPMorgan said would be accretive immediately, expands the New York company's branch network by nearly 70%, giving it a total of 5,410 branches, the company said.

Observers noted that Washington Mutual, which sold its proprietary mutual fund business in 2006, will also offer a captive customer base to whom JPMorgan can market investment products.

Les Dinkin, a managing director in the consulting firm Novantas LLC in New York, noted that JPMorgan is more focused on relationships than Wamu. Consequently, he said, "JPMorgan must be salivating at the opportunity to cross-sell products to Wamu's customers to really deepen the relationships."

JPMorgan has a better developed investment menu than Wamu, he added.

The transaction, meanwhile, has moved JPMorgan's branch network from third-biggest in the nation to No. 2, behind Bank of America Corp.

JPMorgan Chase adds the new states of California, Oregon, and Washington, while gaining 250 branches in Florida, where its network was very small and where the company has long wanted to expand.

Dave Martin, a retail banking consultant at NCBS, a unit of SunTrust Banks Inc. noted: "This gives them a massive branch network, and as much as folks pontificate about the future of the branch, the amount and location of branches still matters a lot to customers, so this really helps JPMorgan."

The deal also makes JPMorgan the nation's biggest depository institution, up from No. 3 previously, increasing its deposits by 26%, to $911 billion, or slightly more than 10% of the nation's total, Mr. Scharf said.

He noted that some overlap exists in states such as Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Utah, New York, and New Jersey and said the company would probably look to close branches rather than divest them. "We're not thinking about any divestitures right now," he said in response to a question during a Friday morning press conference. "We do have overlap in certain locations; we do have branches that are very, very close to each other; we might consolidate them, not divest them."

Thursday night, during an investor call announcing the deal, Mr. Scharf said the company might close up to 10% of the combined branches.

Meanwhile, Mr. Scharf and the company's other top executives acknowledged that the deal comes with some calculated risk in the form of Wamu's troubled mortgage assets, but they said they feel comfortable with this risk. "If the environment gets worse, if the loan portfolio gets worse, we're still very well protected, and we've got a great franchise going forward," Mr. Scharf told reporters.

"We want to build a great company," said James Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's chairman and chief executive. "You do something like this for 100 years; you don't do something because it's going to be good for the next year financially," he said at the press conference. Mr. Dimon did not rule out future deals. Asked whether the deal might complete his retail ambitions, he remarked: "This is a still a big country, and there are a lot of places we are not in."

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