The merger of Wells Fargo & Co. and Norwest Corp. enters its final stage this week as the combined $205.4 billion-asset company begins the lengthy process of unifying computer systems and customer accounts.

It could take as long as 18 months -- until the first quarter of 2001 -- to meld operations across 21 states. As a first step, the new Wells Fargo on Thursday will begin converting its 94 branches in New Mexico, all but five of which are former Norwest locations.

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