When First Bank System Inc. combines most of its nine banks into one on June 1, the change will hardly cause a ripple.

That's because Minneapolis-based First Bank, which plans to take advantage of interstate branching under the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994, has been operating as one bank for several years even though legally it holds multiple charters.

Yet for Cleveland-based KeyCorp, the move to consolidate charters is a major departure.

Having one bank is "living up to our brand image" as a national retail bank, said Stephen Wall, president and chief operating officer of the newly formed KeyBank. KeyCorp plans to have its 12 banks merged into one by August. The maneuver would save the company less than $10 million, Mr. Wall said, but should make it more efficient in the future.

June 1 marks the date when companies can combine their charters under Riegle-Neal. Only Texas and Montana have decided not to allow interstate branching. Four states-Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin-have not formally acted, but it's believed they will each allow it.

It's unclear how many banks are taking advantage of the law, but clearly a number of big banks plan to centralize their operations.

"Anecdotally, we've seen some movement, but there doesn't seem to be the land rush some were expecting," said Ellen Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Conference of Bank Supervisors.

Though the law will provide new options to customers, like being able to deposit money in banks across state lines, many companies are like First Bank-they've already realized the advantages of operating like one company from a technological and operational standpoint.

First Union Corp. of Charlotte, for instance, said expense savings will be small. The company will save about $6.5 million a year, said spokeswoman Donna Stockton. First Union has 13 banks, and it plans to keep a separately chartered bank in Delaware because of the insurance powers allowed under the laws of that state. But the other 12 banks will be folded into one, to be known as First Union National Bank, starting March 1, 1998.

Wells Fargo & Co. will be known in all its states as Wells Fargo Bank, as opposed to Wells Fargo Bank of Texas or Wells Fargo Bank of Colorado. Wells has already folded eight of its 10 banks into its lead bank in San Francisco. Colorado will be the last bank to fold in to Wells Fargo Bank in June.

Likewise BankAmerica Corp. has merged all but its Illinois and Texas banks into its lead bank in San Francisco. The company is awaiting approval from the Office of Comptroller of the Currency for the merger of the Illinois bank. BankAmerica also has a thrift charter, BankAmerica FSB, that operates in 31 states.

NationsBank Corp. has a big task at hand. When it acquired Boatmen's Bancshares of St. Louis in January, NationsBank inherited 57 banks, said spokeswoman Mary Waller. NationsBank will merge its Georgia bank into its Charlotte bank June 1 and has applications to merge 20 of the former Boatmen's banks by mid-June. Eventually, the company wants to move to one bank, but Ms. Waller said no deadline has been set.

Some banks don't believe the consolidation of legal entities will make that much of a difference. Norwest has 41 charters, but other than merging its 15 Texas charters into one, it has no plans to consolidate.

Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank Corp. said it has been oerating as one bank for years and believes it's ahead of other banks. Citicorp took advantage of another law, merging its non-New York banks into one thrift charter a couple of years ago.

Moreover, Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati, one of the most efficient banks in the country, said it has had no problems with 11 bank charters. "It's on the list of things to look at, but it's nowhere near the top," said spokeswoman Roberta Jennings.

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