Adelaide "Alex" Sink, president of Bank of America's Florida operations announced an early retirement last week. She will be replaced by Catherine P. Bessant, 39, who is president of consumer real estate and community development banking at Bank of America based in Charlotte.

Ms. Sink, whose last official day will be July 31, said she would be leaving June 30 to pursue political and civic interests.

The announcement caused some speculation that she had been ousted because Bank of America's Florida operations had been performing poorly. Ms. Sink, 52, who has been with Bank of America for 26 years, herself suggested that she was nudged into resigning - though not because of poor performance, she said

"I did not raise my hand and ask to retire," Ms. Sink told American Banker. She said that her departure was related to an ongoing restructuring by Kenneth Lewis, the president and chief operating officer of the company, who is viewed as the heir apparent to chairman and chief executive officer Hugh McColl. According to Ms. Sink, Mr. Lewis "is picking a new team." Mr. Lewis did not return a call requesting a comment about Ms. Sink's department.

In a press release issued by the company last Thursday. Mr. Lewis said Ms. Sink "has made an extraordinary contribution to this company through the years."

Bank of America's Florida operation has improved since the merger with NationsBank Corp. two years ago, said Ms. Sink, citing an internal survey conducted by the Gallup Organization.

"Scores for our customer satisfaction are higher than pre-merger levels, and we have rebounded faster than any other bank merger," she said.

Customer attrition in the Florida market has long been a concern - not just for Bank of America in the wake of its merger with NationsBank, but also for NationsBank following its own earlier acquisition of Barnett Banks Inc., of Jacksonville.

"It's very well known that we had a disaster back then. There were a lot of challenges after that merger," said Ms. Sink. "We put our customers and associates through quite a bit of stress."

Analysts who cover the company agreed that customer attrition problems had a long history in the Florida market. According to Diane Glossman, analyst at UBS Securities, New York, Bank of America has mentioned attrition at quarterly earnings meetings. And Richard Bove, analyst at Raymond James & Associates, in St. Petersburg, Fla., said: "Alex Sink was put in a wrenching situation when she took over that job of heading Bank of America's Florida operations."

If there is a problem with those operations, "the problem is Bank of America's and not Alex Sink's," said Mr. Bove, who has argued that NationsBank paid too much for Barnett. "The enormity of turning that acquisition into a profitable business while increasing the pricing on fees and losing many employees is overwhelming."

Ms. Sink said that she plans to pursue other endeavors, such as preservation of environmentally threatened land in Florida. She also plans to purse some political interests, which include working on the campaigns for Democrats Bill Nelson and Linda Chapin, who are running for the U.S. Senate and a congressional seat in Orlando, respectively.

Bank of America has Florida's largest deposit base, some $47 billion or 23.5% of market, according to June 1999 data compiled by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It is followed by First Union Corp., with $33 billion or a 16.62% share; and SunTrust Banks Inc., with $20 billion or a 12.5% share.

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