The Bank United Deal

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2002-09-15 Email Print this article Print

When Washington Mutual acquires another bank, there is no question about whose technology will prevail. But the clear expectation-setting seems to inspire loyalty, not resentment.

The Bank United Deal

Consider the case of Bank United, which Washington Mutual bought in February 2001 (acquisition No. 28 of the aforementioned 32), as a way to get into the Houston market for mortgages and retail banking. In August 2000, after senior executives from both banks had agreed to the $1.5 billion acquisition, Washington Mutual managers explained their merger methods to Bank United employees and told them 600 to 650 overlapping jobs would likely be eliminated.

A straightforward communication—but also a big risk because it prompted many Bank United staffers to start worrying about their job security. But this is where Washington Mutual's manner of handling new employees came into play. The acquirer held off-site conferences and meetings at Bank United headquarters and branches to get to know the managers and workers there. It identified key Bank United people needed to convert systems and offered financial rewards to those who agreed to stick around through the process. That included managers of critical applications such as deposit systems and loan processing, as well as administrators of networks, servers and databases. Many were told not to come to work but to be available should something go wrong. They continued to be paid during the integration, which took about eight months. The conversion period also gave Washington Mutual the chance to evaluate potential new hires. Essentially, you're auditioning while you're helping with the switchover.

As the conversion got started, Washington Mutual made job offers to at least some Bank United workers. Rick Hare, former director of banking applications at Bank United, had an offer in January 2001, which he accepted the following month.

"I was thinking that there might not be an opportunity for me with the new bank," says Hare, whose work in technology infrastructure, he thought, didn't make him a superstar with unique skills. But Washington Mutual liked Hare's ability to think in both business and technology terms. He moved to Seattle with his wife in the summer of 2001 and is now strategy manager for consumer banking technology at Washington Mutual. "The way they do things is quick, and in a way that answers questions quickly," he says.

"It's all about winning the trust of the new employees," says Jerry Gross, Washington Mutual's chief information officer. "We don't want this to be strung out too long because that's where you get issues and doubts."

And Bank United also took care of its own during the migration. When a local area network administrator worked through a weekend and missed his child's birthday party to prepare the network for conversion, he got lectured by Wayne Sadin, then Bank United's chief information officer.

"We got everyone together and said, 'This is not OK,'" Sadin recalls. "You can't miss your kid's birthday party. We didn't want that to happen when it was just Bank United and certainly not now." The network administrator was also given $150 to pay for another party.

Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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