When Wachovia Corp. bought Richmond, Va.-based Central Fidelity Banks Inc. last month, it received a nice bonus: the latest in autodialing telephone technology.

Using this state-of-the-art equipment, Wachovia expects to reap a 30% increase in overall productivity this year and boost phone sales of bank products by 15% to 20%.

"It was a bit of a windfall" to get the new autodialer, said Patrick M. Blanchard, senior vice president and general manager of Wachovia On Call. "You could say we're making the most of the merger. I'll definitely be increasing my sales."

Mr. Blanchard said Wachovia will more than triple its outbound telephone sales staff, from seven to 25, and will double from 10 to 20 a group of specialized personal bankers who use telephone technology for sales efforts.

The changes should take place by the second quarter, after Wachovia completes the conversions of Central Fidelity and another Virginia acquisition, Jefferson Bankshares, in March.

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Wachovia is consolidating the call centers for both Virginia companies into its center in Columbia, S.C.

The autodialer is a key piece of technology for outbound telephone sales efforts, industry experts say, because sales staff do not have to waste time with answering machines and wrong numbers.

Staffers take over a call only when the autodialer has reached a prospect. Moreover, new technology ties the sales calls into a customer data base so a range of information about a prospect is available to the staff.

"It's almost like artificial intelligence," said Peter B. Davidson, executive vice president with the bank consulting firm of Speer & Associates Inc. in Atlanta.

For the last few years, $60 billion-asset Wachovia has used a first- generation autodialer for credit card sales efforts. Upgrading the technology and expanding its use for outbound telephone sales efforts promised to be a costly and complicated undertaking, Mr. Blanchard said.

Mr. Davidson said Wachovia should receive significant gains through its new autodialer.

"There is no question that an autodialer can help the ability to make sales," he said. "If you balance it right, and you have enough operators, sales could increase rapidly."

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