Hoping to cut costs and boost sales, Rockford, Ill.-based Amcore Financial Inc. announced plans this week to fuse its nine banking charters into one.

Amcore, a $4.2 billion-asset company with banks in Illinois and Wisconsin, said the consolidation should cut regulatory expenses and improve its 61% efficiency ratio. However, the company would not disclose specific cost-cutting or efficiency goals.

"We need to go beyond merely focusing on achieving higher loan volume and fee income and take an important step in becoming a more efficient, customer-focused company," said Robert J. Meuleman, Amcore's president and chief executive officer.

Eliminating charters should free the company's staff from regulatory concerns and let them focus more on selling products, Mr. Meuleman said.

Amcore joins a group of super community banks looking to whittle away charters. Old National Bancorp, a $6.2 billion-asset bank holding company in Evansville, Ind., has said it plans to combine its 21 charters by early 2000. Keystone Financial Inc. of Harrisburg, Pa., is merging its seven banks.

"I think the market has been looking for us to do this," said Katherine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Amcore. "Certainly our peers are doing it."

Amcore has not decided which of its national bank, federal thrift, or Illinois state bank charters to retain, Ms. Taylor said.

The charter consolidation fits with the company's year-old goal of increasing return on equity to 15%, said an analyst who follows the company. (On Tuesday, Amcore reported first-quarter ROE of 12.75%, down from 13.09% a year earlier.)

"The knock on Amcore in the past is, they have not had a sharp focus on cost control," said Brock Vandervliet, a bank analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York. "I think this is a positive move."

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