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NationsBank sees fruits of its labors

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

Almost two years after the acquisition was announced and a bit more than a year after the Boatmen's Bank signs came down in southwest Missouri, NationsBank executives in the area said they are seeing the fruits of the deal.

"We had some challenges shortly after the announcement," said Steve Burch, senior banking executive for NationsBank in southwest Missouri. "But we began to see a big turnaround in January. The last four to five months it's seemed like somebody flipped a light switch and the numbers improved drastically."

Local executives attributed the improvements to technology advances, full implementation of the transition to the NationsBank system, and local banking customers discovering the breadth of services available.

From the beginning, with the August 1996 announcement that North Carolina-based NationsBank Corp. would acquire St. Louis-based Boatmen's Bancshares Inc., technology was cited as a driving force behind the deal.

At that time Andrew B. Craig III, Boatmen's Bancshares' chairman and chief executive, said the capital investment to upgrade the banks' computer systems was prohibitive.

Local executives now said NationsBanks' annual $1 billion technology budget is showing.

Lenders did not have access to personal computers under Boatmen's. About a month ago, the NationsBanks that comprise the former Boatmen's went online with a model bank computer program.

For about 18 months the transition to the new computer system was under way, culminating in the placement of 2,500 workstations and training throughout NationsBank Midwest for the July startup. (See related story on page 7.)

And the Boatmen's Bank that was made up of multiple separately chartered banks (of which Boatmen's Bank of Southern Missouri was one) are now all under a single national NationsBank charter.

The two taken together technology and unification are important elements of the seamless, single "banking experience" available from a NationsBank in Shell Knob or in Florida.

Burch said between January and June of this year, about $165 million in new consumer loans were booked in southwest Missouri, making the area the third best in NationsBank Midwest, which roughly translates into the former Boatmen's.

Steve Fox, senior vice president for commercial accounts, said his area is experiencing annualized growth of 12 percent.

"St. Louis is not having the growth we're seeing down here," he said. Fox attributed the increases to the breadth of NationsBank's resources, the individual bankers in the area and the NationsBank approach to business.

Where Boatmen's commercial lenders were generalists, with up to 200 accounts of varied sizes, according to Fox, NationsBank bankers now have 40 to 50 larger clients.

"It's relationship-oriented. Bankers can spend more time with (their clients)," Fox said.

And the resources available from NationsBank allow clients' banking needs to be met as they grow. Fox pointed to the O'Reilly Automotive Inc. acquisition of Hi-Lo Automotive Inc. in January. The Global Finance group within NationsBank was the lead agent bank in the acquisition.

"For O'Reilly to have that available is important," Fox said. "A few years ago we would have sat around with blank looks on our faces."

Fox heads up growth and strategies commercial banking, for clients with annual revenues of more than $500,000. Jay Titus is vice president and business banking manager in the NationsBank system, which is divided into lines of business.

Titus' business banking lines are for firms that are "more entrepreneurial," with revenues less than $500,000.

These lines of business are internal distinctions and should be seamless to customers as they are passed to the most appropriate area for them, the executives said.

Titus said his line seeks to take advantage of NationsBank's focus on U.S. Small Business Administration programs, and the array of products available to those in small business. He said NationsBank's fixed-rate, 15-year business loan has proven very attractive in this market, as well as the process of working with lenders.

"We've had a huge success in making it easier to borrow from us," Titus said, in part because of the computer technology introduced by NationsBank. "As long as they pay loans as agreed, we don't require any financials from them."

And NationsBank wants to take care of those entrepreneurs' personal banking, as well.

Wade Carruth is the vice president and area manager who heads up professional and executive banking. The group targets all attorneys, physicians and business owners with annual incomes in excess of $100,000 and net worth of more than $500,000. The program offers specialized products and services for this group of clients.ionsBank

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