Wachovia Corp. hopes to gain 300,000 consumer households this year, its chief executive officer told analysts.

Adding high-quality customers is "the next horizon in driving earnings," said chairman, president, and CEO L.M. "Bud" Baker Jr.

The $65.3 billion-asset banking company, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., already counts two million customer households in the Carolinas as its core market.

Many banks focus on retaining customers and making them more profitable, and Wachovia will also work harder at that, Mr. Baker told the analysts last week. In coming months, he said, its 140 financial advisers and 1,100 personal bankers will comb the bank's files and personally contact 5,000 customers a day to get more business.

The sales program, which Wachovia calls Profitable Relationship Optimization or PRO, targets the most profitable customers. Since its launching in 1996 it has boosted product sales by 20%, Mr. Baker said.

The effort "accounts for millions of dollars of retained annual income," Mr. Baker said. "Winning new customers is expensive if you do not have strategic alignment to cross-sell and leverage relationships."

The strategies of acquiring and then retaining customers are related, said Lynn Brown, Wachovia's director of marketing. "We want to minimize customer attrition and maximize customer acquisition," he said in a telephone interview this week.

Analysts said they were impressed by Mr. Baker's presentation to the Bank and Financial Analysts Association conference in Delray Beach, Fla.

"They have an offense," said Michael Mayo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. "To some degree Wachovia's consumer operation has been underestimated, but they are really just starting to kick in with momentum now."

Wachovia uses several techniques to gain relationships, Mr. Brown said. In addition to starting accounts through branches, the company is aggressively seeking contracts with businesses to offer consumer banking services to their employees.

It also has partnerships with Realtors and local chambers of commerce to offer "newcomer packages" to people relocating to the South, Mr. Brown said.

Wachovia is also looking to advertise on Internet sites, hoping to attract interest in its Web banking service.

Acquisitions last year in Virginia and Florida should also help sign up customers, Mr. Brown said. The company completed deals for $10.5 billion- asset Central Fidelity Banks in Richmond, Va., and $736 million-asset 1st United Bancorp in Boca Raton, Fla.

Through sales efforts in these new markets and more aggressive hunting in its home territory, Wachovia added 240,000 households last year, Mr. Brown said.

Once signed up, households are immediately analyzed for profit potential and, if they land in the top quartile, are matched with personal financial advisers who make telephone contact to sell more products, Mr. Brown said.

"We certainly are trying to be aggressive on all fronts," he said.

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