In the industry's race to integrate major banking company acquisitions, Wells Fargo & Co. prefers being the tortoise rather than the hare.

"When we had the merger with Norwest and Wells Fargo, we took a longer approach to that merger than a lot of our competitors do with similar sized mergers," Michael Kennedy, the head of Wells' enterprise payments strategy group, said in an interview Monday.

"Similarly now," as the San Francisco banking company consolidates Wachovia Corp., "I would say that we're probably taking a more measured approach than some of our competitors are," he said.

He told bankers in a keynote address at the ATM, Debit & Prepaid Forum in Las Vegas this week that the complicated integration of Wachovia, which Wells Fargo acquired in December, is moving forward slowly and steadily.

"There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things we have to do to integrate the systems," Kennedy said.

And Wells does not want any missteps as it combines the two operations.

The banking industry got a "once-a-decade" example recently of just how badly such projects can go — and the sort of reputational backlash they can provoke — when some of TD Bank's systems went down after its integration of Commerce Bancorp of Cherry Hill, N.J., which it acquired last year.

For more than a week this month, the posting of direct deposits and other transfers was delayed, angering numerous customers of the U.S. banking subsidiary of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Kennedy said this kind of glitch is exactly what Wells Fargo wants to avoid as it prepares to link its sytems to those of Wachovia.

"I don't think there's any silver bullet, where you can say, 'Oh, if they had done X, it wouldn't have happened,' " he said during the interview.

But a "measured approach" is the best preparation for a major technology project, he said.

At Wells, "just making it job one is going to be important to understand what all the intricacies are, what the complexities are and really put a lot of smart people on it against those and see what can we do to get all the systems merged properly," Kennedy said.

"Yeah, the merger's going to last a little bit longer, but we take the time to, in our opinion, do it right the first time."

The ATM, Debit & Prepaid Forum was sponsored by SourceMedia Inc., which is also the publisher of American Banker.

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