Though Wells Fargo's hostile takeover bid for First Interstate Bancorp has whetted Wall Street's appetite for big operational cost savings, combining the banks' computer systems might prove to be difficult and even expensive, some observers said.
The $10.1 billion bid by San Francisco-based Wells for its downstate rival is largely hinged on expected cost savings of $700 million a year. Analysts said the cuts could come from eliminating as many as 150 overlapping branches and consolidating back-office facilities.
A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment on how the bank might combine its operations with First Interstate, but consultants and rival bankers said that in terms of technology, the two banks have taken very different paths, a fact that may make any systems consolidation problematic.
For example, while Wells Fargo has built much of its core accounting systems by itself, First Interstate is a big proponent of buying packaged software to run its far-flung operations, mainly using application software from Hogan Systems Inc.
Additionally, First Interstate reportedly is spending more than $60 million on a new branch automation system from Dallas-based Hogan that is based on the IBM OS/2 operating system. At the same time, Wells Fargo is investing tens of millions of dollars to install branch computers based on the Unix operating system.
And unlike other recent bank megamergers where "best of breed" systems were selected from both institutions, observers said iconoclastic Wells would likely force First Interstate convert to its systems in order to gain quick cost savings.
"Culturally, Wells Fargo is different from virtually any other bank, so it's hard to imagine it is a great fit anywhere." said Richard C. Hartnack, vice chairman at rival Union Bank in San Francisco. "Wells is just very good at what they do, and they believe strongly in the way they do things."
"Wells has for a long time been working on developing cost effectiveness in its mergers," said Ed Furash, president of Furash & Co. "This will give Wells an opportunity to spread its substantial investment in technology, indicative in the price they're willing to pay."
But Bob Landry, a technology analyst with Tower Group in Wellesley, Mass., said the proposed deal may have some up-front costs, especially in any conversion of First Interstate branches. The Los Angeles-based bank has 1,100 - nearly twice as many as Wells.
"Depending on where First Interstate is with their branch project, that could be a $60 million investment that just walks away," Mr. Landry said.
However, observers also noted that are some systems synergies between the two banks. Both have been actively involved in developing home banking via personal computer, as both allied themselves earlier this year with Intuit Corp. and its top-selling Quicken personal finance software.
Wells Fargo has also been aggressively adding new functions to its automated teller machines, features that could be quickly added to First Interstate's massive fleet of cash machines, consultants said.
Matt Barthel and Karen Epper contributed to this report.