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Wells Fargo: Bigger Is Better

Wells Fargo maintains the biggest retail branch network in the U.S., and may not lose that title any time soon.

SAN FRANCISCO (

TheStreet

) --

Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Wells Fargo & Company Report

maintains the biggest retail branch network in the U.S., and may not lose that title any time soon.

All of the big banks have been shuttering branches this year, with

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Bank of America Corp Report

announcing plans last month to close another 10% of its vast network.

Wells acquired 3,348 new branches as part of its Wachovia deal last year, giving it a combined franchise of 6,675 branches. (It had 10,761 "stores" which include branches as well as other types of banking services like mortgages and investments.) Wells has since expanded further to over 6,700 branches as of July 31, according to SNL Financial.

"The vast majority of Wachovia's operations are in markets where we do not have a presence so we complement each other very nicely," notes Wells spokeswoman Julia Tunis Bernard. "That's the magic of this merger."

Though the firm won't disclose how many branches it plans to ultimately shutter, Wells hasn't been as aggressive as rival

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get JPMorgan Chase & Co. Report

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in rebranding the locations it decides to keep.

JPMorgan, which purchased

Washington Mutual

assets from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. after WaMu failed, said on Friday that it is on track to transfer all of its WaMu branches onto Chase systems by the end of the year.

Although JPMorgan plans to whittle down its branch network by 4% to 5,100 before Jan. 1, most of those cuts will have been made to locations where Chase and WaMu overlap. Ultimately, JPMorgan plans to

expand its network by 125 branches annually.

Wells Fargo, by comparison, is taking it slow.

If New York City is any example, there are still plenty of locations with the Wachovia name displayed, and the icon of a navy-blue background with green shapes and white squiggly lines. CEO John Stumpf said Wells will begin the conversion in November, starting with Colorado, and a regional president told the

South Florida Business Journal

in March that a full conversion may take up to a year.

"Blending cultures, combining businesses, products and systems, and changing names will take time because we want to do it right for our customers," says Bernard.

So far this year, Wells has closed 77 branches, or 1.1% of its franchise as of July 31, according to SNL. Wells seems to be selling them off in small deals, like one completed on July 21 in which PremierWest Bancorp bought two Wachovia locales in California.

So, although Wachovia's investment bank has been rolled into Wells Fargo Advisors and its mortgage division is one with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, retail customers may not see the Wells stagecoach on their branches for at least a few months.

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Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York

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