Top executives from Chemical Banking Corp., Great Western Financial Corp., and Wachovia Corp. gave upbeat assessments of their companies' most promising initiatives at a recent Montgomery Securities conference here.

Chemical vice chairman William B. Harrison Jr. focused on wholesale banking opportunities in the pending merger with Chase Manhattan Corp., while Great Western executive vice president A. William Schenck talked up retail and Wachovia chief executive L.M. Baker Jr. concentrated on data processing.

The Chase-Chemical merger, slated for completion on March 31, would create not only the largest U.S. bank in overall assets but also the world's most profitable wholesale bank, Mr. Harrison asserted.

Mr. Harrison is to head the merged bank's wholesale business. To be called the global bank, it will encompass wholesale lending, capital markets, trading, cash management, securities custody, venture capital, asset management, and private banking.

Based on combined yearend figures, total assets of the global bank would have been $196 billion, pro-forma revenues $7.4 billion, after-tax earnings $1.6 billion, and return on equity 19%. The global bank would have accounted for 55% to 60% of the combined bank's earnings and, according to Mr. Harrison's tally, would have posted higher profits than comparable operations at BankAmerica Corp. and Citicorp, the profitability leaders on the wholesale end in 1995.

Mr. Harrison added that the profits will be boosted by expected cost cuts of 19%, and expected growth in sales of 4% to 5% in 1997 and 1998.

Mr. Harrison claimed that the integration of the merger partners' wholesale businesses is "going extremely well. We are more confident today than we were six months ago as we go deeper into the merger," he said.

Mr. Harrison added that the two banks have only a 15% to 20% overlap in core wholesale clients - less than had been feared, and comparable to Chemical's yearend 1991 merger with Manufacturer's Hanover Corp.

He said that the top 300 executives for the post-merger bank spent nearly a full week together last month at an off-site location, where they agreed on operating procedures, principles, and key staff appointments.

"There's tremendous harmony at the top of the corporation," he claimed. "That flows down through the organization, and that's critical in a merger like this."

Mr. Harrison said that revenue growth is expected from combining the two banks' complementary operations. Chase, for example, had been a leader in new emerging market bond issuances, while Chemical's position as a market maker in foreign exchange trading will compliment Chase's "client, customer-driven business."

Mr. Harrison also said that the new Chase expects to be among the top three companies overall in high-yield securities within two or three years. Chase and Chemical combined already would rank among the leaders in leveraged syndicated lending.

Great Western chief executive John Maher, who also addressed the conference, proclaimed that some of his thrift's best opportunities lie in its retail banking business. "I believe the retail business at Great Western has a significant opportunity to make real shareholder value impacts," he said.

To that end, Great Western has gone on a binge of hiring retail bankers, including Mr. Schenck, who was recruited last year from PNC Bank Corp. to run the Chatsworth, Calif.-based thrift's retail operation.

Mr. Schenck outlined the following opportunities: Great Western has 2.7 million retail households. Yet only 1.3 million of those have checking accounts. And only a handful of Great Western's 96,000 small-business customers borrow from the thrift.

Growth can come simply from marketing more loans and other services to these current customers, Mr. Schenck said. Great Western is planning to introduce a new debit card in the fourth quarter that could deliver interchange fees of $15 million annually.

Meanwhile, a new credit card is due out in October, while home equity loan sales should start in the third quarter.

Great Western has 2,200 employees selling an average of 1.2 products a day through its branches. If the thrift meets its goal of increasing the cross-sale ratio by 30%, it will increase product sales by 800 a day, or 20,000 a month.

Great Western also has 600 automated teller machines, mostly at its branch locations. Mr. Schenck said that Great Western plans to "play aggressively in the surcharging game" with ATM fees.

Mr. Baker, the Wachovia chief executive, noted that his company is in the midst of its first major upgrade in branch computer systems since on- line branch systems were first installed in the early 1980s.

Phase one, or the installation of new hardware and software for automating checking account changes, was completed in December. New processing software designed to automatically handle 90% of all consumer loan applications is due to go on-line this year. Late this year, the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company also plans to install new customer information software to help platform employees with cross-sales.

A telephone banking service manned by live bankers was started in June 1994, and handled four million calls in 1995, on top of the 17 million handled by the automated system the bank already had.

Wachovia has put 104 of its 700 automated teller machines in workplaces, which helps it obtain new customers in groups, Mr. Baker said. In the next year, Wachovia plans to introduce a new PC banking service.

Document imaging capabilities are being added to Wachovia's PC banking services for wholesale customers, and also to a wholesale lockbox operation.

Wachovia is planing to spend $30 million on a new consolidated customer information system, that will use fast, modern relational data base technology. The company also plans to spend $20 million on a new trust computer system being developed as part of a multi-bank consortium, and $14 million on a new performance measurement system.

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