Moving to slash costs after having bought H.F. Ahmanson & Co., Washington Mutual Inc. said Tuesday that it would close 161 branches in California.
The announcement was expected as part of a drive to cut annual expenses by $330 million in the wake of the $6.9 billion deal.
The designated offices are almost evenly divided between the pre-merger companies: 79 from Washington Mutual and 82 from Ahmanson's Home Savings subsidiary.
The largest concentration of closings-40-will be in Los Angeles County. That compares with 22 in San Diego County, 21 in Orange County, and seven in Alameda County.
Those slated for closure are, on average, less than a half-mile from another Washington Mutual or Ahmanson branch, the company said. About 42% are less than a quarter-mile apart. Some are across the street from each other or on the same block.
Because of the proximity, analysts said, they do not expect significant customer defections.
"Customers in California won't have to go more than three blocks out of their way to get to another branch," said James R. Bradshaw, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Ore. "People are not going to be too inconvenienced by this."
"In deciding which branches to consolidate, we have sought to carefully balance both the efficiency and convenience of our network," said Deanna W. Oppenheimer, Washington Mutual's executive vice president for consumer banking and corporate relations.
The branch closings are scheduled to occur in the second quarter, the company said. Washington Mutual would have 540 locations left in California and a total of 1,200 branches in eight states.
Officials said the branch cuts will result in a small number of layoffs. Most of the 3,000 to 3,500 job reductions expected from the merger are likely to come from administration and the back office, Mr. Bradshaw said.
Seattle-based Wamu still faces another hurdle in its merger with Ahmanson: integrating the companies' computer systems.
Based on Washington Mutual's performance this summer integrating Great Western Financial Corp., observers predicted the Ahmanson conversion would proceed with few glitches.
"If Great Western can be used as an example, this conversion process should go smoothly," said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst with Van Kasper & Co. in San Francisco.
Mr. Morford praised Washington Mutual's two-step process for digesting acquisitions. Great Western's Florida branches were converted before the thrift's larger California presence, allowing Wamu to learn from problems that arose in the smaller market.
Aside from a vendor's glitch that temporarily fouled up telephone banking in Florida, the Great Western conversion was widely considered a success.
Wamu plans to convert Ahmanson's 45 Texas branches by the end of the year. Then it will turn to the California offices, which are expected to be integrated by the end of June.
"Texas will be a good place to iron out any problems that pop up," Mr. Morford said.
Even as the thrift moves to close the California branches, it has also opened several new locations in the state. Over the last 12 months it put branches in the Watts, Foothill Ranch, and Glendora communities.
Wamu is planning to open 12 more branches this year and next throughout California, Ms. Oppenheimer said.
Separately, the thrift said Monday that executive vice president Lee Lannoye will retire at yearend. Mr. Lannoye, 60, oversees corporate human resources and property management, government relations, and Community Reinvestment Act compliance. The 40-year veteran of the banking and real estate industries joined Washington Mutual in 1988.