Jul 272007
By Francine Brevetti, Business Writer
Inside Bay Area
NINE MONTHS after acquiring Golden West Financial Corp., Wachovia Corp. executives say they’re mostly done with the work of merging the two companies and are looking to grow.The jobs Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia eliminated in its $25 billion acquisition of Oakland-based Golden West will come back slowly but surely, executives of Wachovia’s new Western division said. Meanwhile, company officials are also facing criticism from some who say the bank hasn’t been active enough in the community.Wachovia will open 25 to 30 branches in Northern California in 2008, bank executives Pete Jones and Robert McGee told MediaNews in an interview last week.”That number will grow considerably after 2008. It’s just a start,” said McGee, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Wachovia’s general banking group.”Each branch requires eight to 10 people,” added Jones, executive vice president of Wachovia’s Western banking group. Both banking groups are now based in Oakland.Wachovia, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, has said it would like to have 600 to 750 branches in California.

Wachovia eliminated 1,100 positions after it acquired Golden West Financial, parent of World Savings Bank, a deal announced in May 2006 and completed last October. Thirty percent of those jobs were in the Bay Area. Since the merger, 120 of the discharged employees have been hired back, McGee said.

McGee and Jones said the bank will actively hire and train additional bankers as it grows, and will add corporate-level positions to be based in its Lake Merritt offices in Oakland.

Focus on integration

The executives said the corporate focus over the past year was divided among integrating the two companies and staffs, and expansion in the West.

Officials have been readying employees for integration as a single company, Jones said, and grappling with choosing a new logo, which will be introduced in October.

Their West Coast expansion activities — planning for new branches — focused originally in Los Angeles and extended to Northern California in October. Wachovia has opened nine branches in Southern California in the last year.

In the meantime, Community Relations Executive J. Reymundo Ocanas, reassigned here from Southern California two months ago, has been meeting with a number of community groups and establishing relationships.

Community groups

Still, officials with four prominent community groups complained they have not had enough contact with Jones and Wachovia Chief Executive Ken Thompson.

Last October, Thompson sent a list to community groups outlining the bank’s pledges to support low- to middle-income consumers in lending practices, philanthropy, small-business philosophy and other issues. The executives’ silence since then has left local leaders uneasy about the bank’s commitment to these promises.

“My colleagues at the state level Black Chamber of Commerce (in Sacramento) said they’ve never heard from (Wachovia). There is some concern,” said Len Canty, founder and chairman of the Black Economic Council in Oakland.

David Glover, executive director of Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal, said he was “disappointed” Jones and Thompson had not made more contact with OCCUR.

Last year, when Wachovia was trying to win the support of the Bay Area and Oakland, in particular, bank executives promised that local community leaders would have the opportunity to meet with Jones twice a year and Thompson once a year. Those meetings have occurred in the past year, McGee and Jones said.

Ocanas said the bank would attempt to expand its community outreach.

Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, and Robert Gnaizda, general counsel for the Berkeley-based Greenlining Institute, both expressed dismay that Wachovia is keeping the same model for mortgages to low- and middle-income families as did Golden West, specifically the so-called option adjustable-rate mortgage.

With these loans, the borrower can make a payment less than the interest payment but then the unpaid interest is added back to the principal owed.

“What are they doing to make sure Californians don’t get in trouble?” Fisher asked, referring to mortgage products that he feels are dangerous for the poor.

Defending the ARM

McGee said the bank’s option ARM was the highest quality such product on the market and amply protects the consumer.

McGee also said the bank is improving customer relations.

“We have less customer attrition in the first five months of this year than Golden West had in the first five months of last year,” he said.

The company is reinstalling ATMs, since Golden West was beginning to divest itself of them. It is offering a free checking account, with no service charges, no minimum balance and no direct deposit required. Also, it is expanding its offerings of certificates of deposits at competitive rates.

Contact Francine Brevetti at fbrevetti@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6416. Read The Daily Bookmark at http://www.ibabuzz.com/bookmark.

 Posted by at 5:48 pm
Jul 012007

The Wolfes

Noriko and Dennis Wolfe at their home in Fremont, California

AIN’T LOVE GRAND? The trouble is couples may overlook things when they’re blending existing families in a second or third marriage that could plant the seeds of their next divorce, financial experts say.”Too many people think, ‘We are going to throw everything in together and we’ll all live happily ever after.’ But if one of them dies, you don’t know if the surviving parent will care about the other person’s children,” said Alan Olsen, acknowledging Cinderella’s sad experience. Olsen is managing partner of Fremont-based accounting firm Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co. and often handles financial matters for blended families, as he did for Bing Crosby’s second family.Dennis and Noriko Wolfe of Fremont have been unusually compatible over the issue of finances — or maybe they were just lucky. When the childless Dennis Wolfe remarried, his new wife had a daughter. Noriko also had a lucrative career in Southern California that she abandoned to marry Dennis and join him in Fremont.

Noriko resumed her work here as a hair stylist on a part-time basis. She maintains her independence with her own savings and checking account. Everything she makes goes into a living trust for her daughter while Dennis pays for living expenses and other costs.

“She gave up so much that I felt I had an obligation to her,” he said.

When Noriko and Dennis Wolfe married 10 years ago, Noriko’s daughter, Lydia, was 22. It brought a new element to Dennis’ life. Dennis, who had never had children, wondered, “Is she my daughter? Do I help her?”

He decided to help his wife support the young woman through college, with tuition, housing and by buying her a car.

The issue of supporting children from a previous relationship can be a potentially treacherous area that must be handled evenly and up front, financial advisers say.

The Wolfes got financial advice from Olsen, who is a strong advocate of prenuptial agreements. But the Wolfes found such an instrument distasteful.

“I thought it was not in the spirit of our spiritual commitment,” Dennis Wolfe said.

After 10 years of marriage, they have still found each other trustworthy in their financial partnership, whereas many couples blending

MONEYIBusiness 3families come to grief over financial matters. Many indeed enter the second marriage with significant debt, alimony and child support burdens already.

Besides working out the obvious day-to-day areas — who pays for housing, clothing and education — couples must look farther down the line. Financial planners and accountants say it is essential for “Brady Bunch” families to protect each other’s children and property for the long haul.

Olsen advises removing the ex-spouse as a beneficiary on all documents — including owned properties (especially if you refinance, which is a crucial area people frequently forget), bank accounts, retirement plans, wills and life insurance. Designate your beneficiaries and set up a trust to give the current spouse the right to use your income but not to change the beneficiaries, he advised.

While all assets in marriage are community property and are shared equally in this state, the property you have before coming into the relationship is best maintained separately. A prenup will do this. A wife coming in to a second marriage doesn’t want her assets from a previous relationship to come under community property.

“It’s better to clear the air up front rather than after the marriage is concluded, despite Barry Bonds,” said Olsen, referring to a famous case in which an athlete’s court challenge made a prenuptial agreement more difficult to challenge under the law.

Leslie Dawson, a certified public accountant with Glenn & Dawson LLP in Walnut Creek, is adamant about maintaining good records and keeping accounts separate. Once the couple start combining everything into the same account, it is much more difficult to establish separate property if the parties divorce, Dawson said.

Of course, this comment addresses just the possibility most people don’t want to look at when they’re in love and starting out.

Unless you have a prenuptial agreement that says otherwise, all earnings in the marriage are community property, even paychecks.

“I can’t tell you how many people have come into my office and said, ‘If I had only known that.’ Just because the husband has his name on the account, there is no assumption that his income is separate,” Dawson said.

If the husband has put his paycheck into the account and the couple later split, he will have to detail all the transactions in that account if he wants to prove it was separate property. Dawson said she had one client who persevered in tracing his expenses back for 10 years for just this purpose.

“People need to take a class at CalCPA about community property before they marry again,” Dawson advised.

The California CPA Education Foundation, based in Redwood City, holds such a course for professionals on Oct. 8 in San Francisco. Visit http://www.educationfoundation.org or call (800) 922-5272 for more information.

“The first marriage isn’t so important because people usually don’t have anything at the time,” Dawson said. “But in the second marriage, people usually have property at stake. Once they’re thinking about divorce, it’s too late.”

There also are significant tax and Social Security implications in entertaining a second go at happiness. Besides taking a course, consult a financial planner or accountant.

Prenups may promote the malodor of appearing miserly and controlling before the person you are pledged to marry.

Nonetheless, Brad Stroh, co-founder and co-chief executive of Bills.com in San Mateo, which offers credit card debt relief, strongly endorses the agreements. You have to present your true debt situation, assets and income on the table early, he said.

“If you have serious credit card or IRS debt, you can’t hide that except for a short time during the romance,” he said. “If you’re going to lose a relationship over finances, it is probably just as well.”

Contact Francine Brevetti at fbrevetti@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6416. Read The Daily Bookmark at http://www.ibabuzz.com/bookmark.

 Posted by at 6:39 pm