As multicharter banking companies slim down to single charters to cut costs, debate continues over whether they will pay a price in customer loyalty.

Carl L. Campbell, whose Keystone Financial Inc. of Harrisburg, Pa., is among the consolidators, says his customers will like the change because they will be able to bank at all its branches.

But David L. Kalkbrenner says charter consolidation would be a big mistake for his Greater Bay Bancorp, which owns four banks in Northern California.

"The names of our banks mean a lot in their local markets," he said.

Mr. Cambpell's Keystone plans to combine its seven banks under one charter and one name-Keystone Bank-by yearend. The $7 billion-asset would cut about 300 senior management and back-office jobs, along with dozens of directors.

"It's getting harder and harder to make money," said Mr. Campbell, who is chairman and chief executive officer. "The choice is to cut costs."

Keystone projects savings of $20 million a year.

Another charter consolidator is West Coast Bancorp in Lake Oswego, Ore. It recently merged its four banks into one, West Coast Bank.

The $1.2 billion-asset company eliminated about 100 jobs and 40 directors. Estimated cost savings, after a one-time $5 million charge: $6 million a year. West Coast said it expects its improve its efficiency ratio from 64% to the mid-50s.

And Old National Bancorp in Evansville, Ind., is undergoing a similar conversion, which it says will save about $8 million a year. The $6.2 billion-asset company runs 21 community banks in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. This time next year, all the branches will be operating under the name Old National Bank.

"We have determined that we could be a far better organization if we took out some of the redundancies," said James A Risinger, chairman and chief executive officer.

One area in which Old National expects to save is advertising. With 21 banks it has 21 marketing directors and 21 advertising budgets. Under the new structure, marketing will be handled at Evansville headquarters with a smaller staff.

The company also plans to streamline its product offerings. The 21 banks combined offer nearly 500 variations of checking products, Mr. Risinger said. After consolidation there will be fewer than 20.

Old National and Keystone, like many of the companies consolidating their banks, bill themselves as super community banks, with centralized back-office operations but local decision-making.

And though many functions will be moved to headquarters, both Keystone and Old National say they will preserve that local autonomy.

Old National, for example, plans to retain the directors of its individual banks as advisers. "We think it's vital for the local boards to continue to support lending decisions," Mr. Risinger said.

And Keystone has created "teams" in each of its 21 Pennsylvania and Maryland markets that will focus on customers in those markets.

"By making our local teams the primary method of delivery, we are actually moving closer to our customers," Mr. Campbell said.

Thomas K. Brown, managing director at Tiger Management in New York, said Old National and Keystone have the right idea. As long as they keep decision-making "as local as possible," they can still be effective super community banks, he said.

"I don't think the name matters as much as the execution," said Mr. Brown, a longtime advocate of super community banking.

But Mr. Kalkbrenner, chairman and chief executive officer of $1.6 billion-asset Greater Bay Bancorp in Palo Alto, disagreed.

"If you have one charter, you're not a super community bank," said Mr. Kalkbrenner, whose company owns four banks in northern California and is buying a fifth.

By consolidating charters, bank holding companies risk alienating customers who have grown attached to individual banks, he said.

Jim Yancey, president and chief operating officer at $10.5 billion-asset Synovus Financial Corp. in Columbus, Ga., agreed.

Though Synovus has considered consolidating the charters of its 36 Georgia, Alabama, and Florida banks, he said, it always decided the names were too valuable to give up.

"I can see the virtue of consolidation from an efficiency and cost savings standpoint," Mr. Yancey said, "but what you may gain in cost savings you may lose in customers."

Old National's Mr. Risinger, however, said customers are not married to bank names. Those who use his banks will like the change, because they will be able to company's entire branch network, he said.

"The name means a lot more to local management and the boards than it does to the customers," Mr. Risinger said.

Keystone's Mr. Campbell said the local-name issue has been overrated. Among Keystone customers whose bank's names will be changing, he said, there has been "surprisingly little focus" on the names themselves.

The biggest issue, Mr. Campbell said, has been: "Am I going to have to get new checks?"

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