Norwest Bank Arizona plans to improve the customer service it offers entrepreneurs, said Jeffry Wosje, who was recently tapped to oversee its small-business strategy.

Mr. Wosje, Norwest Bank Arizona vice president and manager of community business banking, said he wants bankers to spend more time asking business owners about their needs.

The Arizona bank's holding company, Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp., is the fifth-largest small-business lender in the nation, with more than $3.7 billion of loans outstanding at midyear 1997, according to Sheshunoff Information Services.

But Mr. Wosje, who has worked at Norwest for 17 years, said he wants bankers to look beyond loans and promote a variety of products such as insurance and retirement plans.

"If all we do is offer loans and deposits, that's not going to set us apart from the competitors in the market," he said. Mr. Wosje, who previously directed small-business marketing for Norwest's flagship unit, Norwest Bank Minnesota, said he wants to reduce bankers' administrative duties so they have more time to spend with customers.

"The only difference the customers will notice is better service," he said. "We need a sharper focus on small business because of the growth in this market."

Phoenix recently was ranked first among 50 U.S. metropolitan areas as the best place to start a small business, according to a recent study by Cogentics, a Cambridge, Mass., research firm.

In the Arizona capital, Norwest competes with small-business lending powerhouses Wells Fargo & Co., Banc One Corp., and BankAmerica Corp.

Norwest, which has a decentralized structure, has made Arizona its third-largest operation, behind those in Texas and Minnesota. It operates in 15 states in the Midwest and Southwest.

Mr. Wosje said entrepreneurs appreciate the bank's decentralized approach and delegation of local lending authority.

"Customers say it is important to be able to look across the table at the decision maker," he said.

Previously, Norwest Bank Arizona's small-business strategy was handled by executives responsible for overall commercial banking, Mr. Wosje said.

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