PNC Financial Services Group Inc. intends to open as many 60 branches and will substantially increase its sales force this year as it looks to strengthen its presence in the Southeast and take advantage of market disruption to add new clients throughout its 15-state footprint.

Speaking to investors and analysts at a conference Thursday, Senior Vice Chairman William Demchak said the Pittsburgh company will also invest $400 million in new technology this year in an effort to improve efficiency and better meet customer demands.

Demchak said that while the company plans to shutter branches in "underperforming markets," it intends to build dozens of new ones in growth markets, particularly markets it entered with its recent acquisition of RBC Bank USA in Raleigh, N.C.

That deal, which closed last week, gave the $263 billion-asset PNC more than 400 additional branches in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia.

Demchak added that the company is also eyeing asset portfolio acquisitions in the Southeast that would add to its base of corporate clients there.

"Building out our presence in the Southeast is our top strategic priority in 2012," Demchak said at the conference hosted by Citigroup Inc. "We continue to see opportunities emerge as the corporate lending environment shifts, including asset dislocation among the European banks."

Demchak also said that the company will boost the size of its sales force by 16% this year, not including employees it inherited in the RBC deal. Many of the new hires will be in the Southeast, "to help grow what we've bought," Demchak said, but the company is also planning to add sales teams throughout its market area as it looks to cross-sell existing customers and aggressively add new ones.

"We believe strongly that the cost of gaining new client relationships…is at historic lows," Demchak said. "It's cheaper than it's ever been to onboard new clients."

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