Wells Fargo & Co. announced this week that another major step in its merger with Wachovia Corp. is now complete. The companies consolidated over the weekend to form one investment bank, Wells Fargo Securities, and one commercial bank, Wells Fargo Bank NA.

A press release called the consolidation “a big milestone for our merger,” which began in January 2009. In addition, it confirmed three major hires intended to beef up the public finance team.

“Thus far, from a municipal, customer, and public finance perspective, the merger has gone phenomenally well,” said Phil Smith, head of government and institutional banking at Wells Fargo Securities. “And now it’s a lot cleaner and easier with issuers in that they are dealing with one broker-dealer name and one bank name.”

Before the merger, Wells [WFC] ranked 23rd among negotiated senior-underwriting deals in 2008, while Wachovia ranked 12th, Smith said. After the merger, Wells joined the ranks of the top 10 as it ran the books on 378 issues worth $11.2 billion in 2009, ranking ninth as senior manager, according to Thomson Reuters. To date this year it has maintained the ninth spot as it senior managed 67 issues worth $2.4 billion.

Now the goal is to expand the investment banking arm so that its footprint is comparable to the commercial business, which is one of the top two in the country, according to Smith.

“Our goal is to make our investment bank as prolific — in other words, to be as good in the investment banking space as we are in the traditional space,” he said. “To really drive the best ideas, become the trusted adviser for the customer, to really give them the best execution, we have to be good on both sides.”

The public finance division intends on hiring around 20 more people this year, Smith said. Some of the most recent hires include Nancy Feldman, who joined the northeast group as managing director of public finance investment banking earlier this month. Feldman was the head of public finance for  New Jersey until late February, and before that she was a vice president of risk management and advisory at Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Before her 12 years with Goldman, Feldman did municipal credit analysis for Asch-Dwyer Municipal Securities, Standard & Poor’s, and Roosevelt & Cross Inc.

Barbara Bych, a vice president at Ambac Assurance Corp. from 1999 to 2009, also recently joined Wells as a loan team manager of commercial credit. She brings more than 20 years of experience to the job, including a role as director of public finance debt ratings for Standard & Poor’s, where she worked for 12 years.

On the West Coast, Wells recently added Mike Jones as a loan-team manager of commercial credit. Jones previously spent two years as a senior vice president in public finance at the Bank of the West. Prior to that he spent two years at Vanguard Group Inc. and five years with Bank of America.

Another four to five people, who cannot yet be named, have resigned from other firms and are joining Wells in the coming months, Smith added.

Market participants have recently indicated that one of those hires is investment banker Sonia Toledo. Her recent employer, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, confirmed last week that she had left her position as managing director, but the bank would not say under what circumstances.

Toledo’s former boss at Lehman Brothers, Ronald Stack, joined Wells last June to head up the northeast municipal group, where Toledo is likely heading, alongside Feldman.

“A lot of these investments we’re making in new hires are so that we go from the eight-nine-10 place to a top-five player,” Smith said. “We’re not keeping the top firms up at night yet, but we’re starting to get their attention.”

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