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Truist remains on pace with cost-cutting initiative, particularly jobs and branches
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Truist remains on pace with cost-cutting initiative, particularly jobs and branches

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Taking a slower but steady approach to the largest integration in financial services industry history has proven to be a prudent decision for Truist Financial Corp. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Truist debuted on Dec. 7, 2019, the result of BB&T Corp.’s $33.5 billion purchase of SunTrust Banks Inc.

The continued economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic convinced Truist management team to be very deliberate with the two key make-or-break integration elements of any bank merger: branch and software/hardware conversions.

Truist chairman and chief executive Kelly King said in July 2020 that the core branch conversions would be pushed out to the first half of 2022, rather than the initial projection of August 2021.

King told analysts that “the risk of executing our merger has already been reduced substantially and is going down as we do conversions.”

“We’re getting a lot of the actual merger work done. A huge amount of work has already been done on the core bank conversion. We did a huge amount of work in terms of grading all of the Truist jobs, and that has all been executed.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Truist has taken an overly methodical approach to merging legacy BB&T and SunTrust operations.

Truist said Thursday it has closed or consolidated 401 branches in the past 12 months, or from 2,957 on March 31, 2020, to 2,556 on March 31, 2021. That includes 226 branches during the first quarter.

That puts Truist at just above the halfway mark of closing or consolidating 800 branches by first quarter 2022.

Also on Thursday, Truist reported a reduction in 486 full-time equivalent job positions during the first quarter for a workforce of 53,207 as of March 31.

Since the completion of the merger, Truist has reduced its workforce by 5,280, or a 9.1% workforce decrease.

The bank cited the first-quarter reductions as “including normal attrition and reductions in force.”

BB&T had 2,134 employees in Forsyth County, according to a 2018 workforce report to Forsyth County Board of Commissioners. It also has about 1,700 employees at its Triad Corporate Center complex in Greensboro.

Cantey Alexander, Truist’s regional president for the Triad, said in December the bank has about 3,800 employees in the region.

Truist said it has achieved $640 million of its projected $1.6 billion in annual cost savings from consolidating BB&T and SunTrust. It expects to be at $1.04 billion by the end of 2021 and at the $1.6 billion goal by the end of 2022.

King said Truist “also demonstrated strong expense discipline by reducing expenses.”

“We continue to make important progress on our integration efforts, including completing the wealth brokerage transition earlier this quarter.”

Truist said it remains on track to reduce its non-branch office space by 4.8 million square feet, having reached 3.5 million square feet as of March 31.

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@rcraverWSJ

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