Wells Fargo & Co. says it has nearly replaced the First Interstate customers who have taken flight since the two banks merged last spring.
Average deposits dropped by only 1% last quarter, to $82.6 billion, excluding the divestiture of 61 branches to Home Savings of America, they said.
"There has been essentially no attrition in the number of accounts," said Leslie L. Altick, a Wells spokeswoman. She added that it would be wrong to assume that just because account numbers fluctuate it means customers are fleeing.
Ms. Altick's assertion contradicted perceptions, at least partially created by rival banks, of a stampede of Wells customers to other banks and thrifts.
Glendale Federal Bank, a Southern California thrift that has swamped media outlets with humorous ads criticizing the effects of the Wells-First Interstate merger, claims it has been gaining 10,000 accounts a month since the beginning of the year.
Glenfed said that the influx of customers came mostly from Wells.
"There are growing pains," Ms. Altick said, "and we can't guarantee that everything will work flawlessly, but we can guarantee that we will work to minimize the problems as best we can."
Wells Fargo has taken some unusually hard knocks since it acquired First Interstate Bancorp, on April 1.
Several technological snafus related to the integration of operations prompted customer complaints. And along with the biting ads by its competitors, Wells' stock price has lagged that of its peers. Shares of the top 25 banks averaged a 25% gain in the last 52 weeks, compared with a 16% rise for Wells.
It's been a turbulent couple of quarters at the company known for its efficient management and technological prowess.
Despite the setbacks, which included third-quarter earnings per share of $3.23, well below analysts' consensus estimate of $3.80, the company and those who follow it say the First Interstate integration is on track.
"Sure there are going to be some events that happen in any consolidation process," said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst with Alex. Brown & Sons, "but by and large, this went off as well as could be expected. This was a massive conversion, involving 450 branches, and part of it took place during the weekend that we had a power outage here."
Wells said it expects to finish integrating First Interstate by yearend - within nine months of the deal's closing. By comparison, NationsBank Corp. says it will take a year to 18 months to incorporate Boatmen's Bancshares fully, assuming that the purchase closes as planned in January.
However, some bank analysts are less forgiving of Wells' difficulties.
"There was so much euphoria around this deal that we decided to wait for it to die down before we got off the fence," said Anthony A. Lombardi, an analyst at Dean Witter. The bank still needs to prove the deal can realize projected revenue gains and expense savings, he said.