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$60 billion ...Deal may be catalyst for regional bank mergers

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

The import of the $60 billion merger between NationsBank Corp. and BankAmerica Corp. may be in what is yet to come, area bankers said in the wake of the April 13 announcement.

The August 1996 announcement that NationsBank would merge with Boatmen's Bank sent shock waves through the Springfield banking market that are still reverberating. Though a much larger deal in dollars and scope, the BankAmerica and NationsBank merger may not have as big a direct effect on the local banking scene.

"There was a big change ... as far as pricing of services and fee structures" when NationsBank merged with Boatmen's, said David Kunze, president and CEO of Signature Bank. "Bank of America is more in line with Nations. Fees are probably the biggest issue that cause people to leave a bank."

"I don't think we'll have the Draconian measures (that were seen with the Boatmen's deal) with the merger of equals," said Ken Carter, chairman of Commerce Bank in Springfield. "I view it as more of an amalgamation of the best of both."

Nonetheless, local competitors to NationsBank expressed happiness at the news of the merger that will result in the country's largest-asset bank.

"Smaller banks out here are just rooting for more mergers," Kunze said.

And that may be exactly what happens.

Local bankers, as well as national analysts, said the renewed wave of consolidation among national banks may hasten the acquisition of regional banks.

"The implications go beyond just that merger," said Todd Parnell, president and CEO of The Bank. He said the deal could begin a ripple effect of "other mergers of a defensive nature."

Carter said looking at a map of the states where large national banks operate reveals that regional banks in the Midwest, and in Missouri in particular, could be targeted.

"The real footrace in this is to call themselves a truly national bank. There are some interesting parts of the puzzle still missing," Carter said. "I think they're more inclined to want a honeybun rather than a doughnut" with a market hole in the middle.

National published reports have mentioned Mercantile Bank, Union Planters, UMB and Carter's own Commerce as attractive to national bank competitors of NationsBank and BankAmerica.

"More mergers will occur. All the analysts I've seen have agreed on that," Kunze said. "The large regional banks know that they have to grow to compete," and for some that may be through merger with a larger national bank.

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