A well-known Texas banker is planning to horn in on NationsBank Corp.'s business lending to cattle operations.

Don Powell, who was running the Amarillo subsidiary of Boatmen's Bancshares when it was acquired by NationsBank, left the Charlotte, N.C.- based company last month and bought an $18 million-asset bank about 30 miles away.

By leveraging his rancher contacts and intimate market knowledge, Mr. Powell believes he can turn Fritch State Bank into an agricultural-lending powerhouse.

"We can compete with the big banks because the person making the decision will be looking them (borrowers) right in the eye," said Mr. Powell, who has been banking the Texas Panhandle for more than a quarter century.

Mr. Powell's move runs contrary to the trend among community banks, which increasingly are exiting agricultural lending in face of mounting competition from big banks and nonbanks such as the Farm Credit Administration and finance companies.

Indeed, the share of agricultural loans held by banks with $100 million or less of assets has fallen since 1993 while banks with assets exceeding $10 billion have been bulking up on such credits, according to figures from Sheshunoff Information Services.

But Mr. Powell, who has a reputation for being a maverick, isn't daunted by macrotrends.

In an interview, he stressed the importance of having a local presence and relationships with the customers. Mr. Powell was the chief executive officer of a community bank, First National Bank of Amarillo, before it was acquired by Boatmen's in the early 1990s.

To bolster the bank's market knowledge, Mr. Powell has raided NationsBank for four of the seasoned lenders who have worked for him in the past. He may pursue more.

Mr. Powell is also helped by NationsBank's reputation. Although the country's fourth-largest bank has been sharpening its focus on agricultural lending, it doesn't enjoy much prestige in the state for farm lending. It gained a bad reputation, deserved or not, among agricultural and small- business borrowers because of credit policies it put in place after entering the state by acquiring some failed banks in the late 1980s.

Mr. Powell said he left NationsBank, despite having a job in place, because its structure was too constrictive.

He didn't like "the centralization format and the one-size-fits-all approach," he said. "Boatmen's was different from that."

Thomas O. Stroud, chief executive officer of $27 million-asset Western National Bank, Amarillo, said that Mr. Powell will give a good fight to the regionals in the market, NationsBank and Banc One Corp.

"He has been a very influential part of the banking community here and he'll definitely be a force," Mr. Stroud said. NationsBank has "had some turnover with their officers and employees and the public is aware of that and there is some concern on the part of the customers."

Mr. Powell hopes to start originating loans as early as this week and plans to make other decisive moves in the coming months. These steps include relocating the company's headquarters to Amarillo and raising $30 million in a community stock offering.

"That'll get us the size we need," he said.

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