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Charlotte Observer: As The Name Fades, So Shall The 'Bank's' Voice

A worker installs a Wells Fargo sign on a former Wachovia bank branch.

A worker installs a Wells Fargo sign on a former Wachovia bank branch. First the Wachovia signs started going away. Now the bank is losing its Charlotte voice. As Wells Fargo puts the finishing touches on its Wachovia merger, it's also phasing out the Charlotte radio personality who greeted customers calling to check their balances and transfer funds. For five years, Mike Collins has been the automated voice callers heard when they dialed 1-800-Wachovia. As Wells Fargo converts Wachovia branches to its own signs and systems state by state, the bank is steering customers to 1-800-TO-WELLS, which has a female voice. "It was fun while it lasted," said Collins, also the host of WFAE radio's "Charlotte Talks" program. It may not be a big change, but it's another sign that an iconic N.C. bank is ceding its identity to the West Coast bank that bought it at the peak of the 2008 financial crisis. On Thursday, San Francisco-based Wells said it successfully completed conversions in South Carolina, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The final changeover begins next month when North Carolina, where Wachovia was born in 1879, makes the switch to Wells. For years, Charlotte's merger-hungry banks brought changes to customers in other states as they gobbled up institutions. Now the city is getting a taste of its own medicine. In addition to a new voice, Wachovia customers are adjusting to a new website, new product names and new fees. Familiar blue-and-green signs are giving way to Wells' red-and-yellow ones. Collins' intonations will actually linger in some areas until February 2012 as final touches are put on the merger, bank spokesman Josh Dunn said. Wells Fargo uses the same voice for all of its customer-service lines, including mortgage and other businesses that have already made the transition. After landing the job through an audition, Collins said he had to promise he wouldn't do anything unsavory in the future, thus protecting the bank's brand. The initial recording took place over a few weeks at a Muzak studio in Fort Mill, S.C. Collins had to read every number between one and 1 million so customers' bank balances wouldn't sound like a series of stitched-together digits. "My brother in (Washington) D.C. called up and said, 'Please tell me that's not you,' " said Collins, who is also a principal at the advertising firm of Collins, Haynes & Lully. " 'I don't want you to know my bank balance.' " When he took the job, Collins had to show he was in good health. That's because he has continued to record new cuts, including instructions about the Wells Fargo merger. The job "grew and grew," he said. "Now it's dwindling rapidly." Collins isn't the only one losing his voice in the merger. Rafael McLeod, of Waxhaw's Verbal Media Services, is the Spanish-speaking voice of Wachovia. "It was a nice gig while it lasted," said McLeod, who is also the English and Spanish voice of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg government's 311 line.