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Santander has $200m plan to expand in US

As one name fades, another rises

Santander also plans to upgrade its ATMs, streamline its website, and introduce new products.

Aram Boghosian for the Globe/File

Santander also plans to upgrade its ATMs, streamline its website, and introduce new products.

The Sovereign Bank brand and its accompanying antique lantern logo will disappear from the local landscape this fall as the Boston-based regional bank takes on the name of its parent, Spanish banking giant Santander.

Santander signs and its flame symbolwill start to appear on branch buildings on Oct. 17, bank officials plan to announce Wednesday.

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The name change is part of a larger $200 million strategy to give Santander’s US subsidiary a face lift as the company lays 1 million square feet of new carpeting, installs 9,500 new lobby chairs, and goes through 32,000 gallons of red paint. The bank also plans to upgrade its ATMs, streamline its website, and introduce new products.

“This isn’t just a change of a name,” said Carlos Garcia, chief of corporate affairs for Sovereign Bank and Santander Holdings USA. “It’s a change of everything.”

While the name change has been expected since 2009, when Banco Santander SA bought Sovereign, analysts said this conversion is trickier than other rebrandings because of Sovereign’s size, with more than 700 East Coast branches from New Hampshire to Maryland, and the introduction of an unfamiliar brand into the well-established American financial market.

Santander, pronounced “san-tan-DAIR” and named for a city in Northern Spain where the bank was founded, is well known in Europe and Latin America. The bank wants to expand its commercial loan business in the United States and hopes that Santander's global brand and footprint in emerging markets such as Brazil will help attract corporate customers.

Bank officials have made preparations to ditch the Sovereign brand for the past four years, but much of it has happened out of the customers’ sight, Garcia said. Santander has invested in the bank, converted various computer systems within Sovereign into one platform, and changed its charter so it could make more commercial loans.

The bank has introduced the Santander brand in small ways in recent years.

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The bank has introduced the Santander brand in small ways in recent years by including both the Sovereign and Santander names on employee business cards, literature, and the bank website. That strategy should tamp down customer shock, said Hal Tovin, a chief operating officer at Belmont Savings Bank who handled marketing for Citizens Bank when it was acquiring banks and changing names.

At the same time, Tovin said, Santander’s emphasis on an international brand is unusual in an industry that tends to emphasize local roots to draw customers.

“For them, the name change creates a global identity and that’s more efficient,” Tovin said. “It will be interesting. It is a foreign bank, and it will clearly be a foreign bank.”

The bank will launch an advertising campaign in mid-October, and try to limit the disruption to its customers, Sovereign officials said.

Customers won’t get new Santander debit and credit cards until their current dual-branded Sovereign-Santander cards expire.

Staff at branches will remain the same. Sovereign has nearly 9,000 employees in nine states in New England and the mid-Atlantic region. It employs almost 3,000 in Massachusetts.

Still, some customers are skeptical about shelving the Sovereign name.

“Everybody knows it” said Chang Lee, 42, as he left Sovereign’s Winchester branch. “Why change it?”

Wendy Pierce, 46, of Brookline, a decadelong customer of Sovereign, said she hopes the name change comes with significant improvements to the bank’s customer service and online and mobile banking options.

“What they come up with better be fantastic,” Pierce said. “It’s not a brand that anybody in US knows about.”

Bank executives concede that Santander is hardly a household name here, and few Americans can even pronounce it correctly, with the accent on the last syllable.

But that is OK, said David Miree, the managing director of Sovereign’s retail network. “They can say the name anyway they want to,” Miree said. “Just bank with us.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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