BankAmerica Corp. late Thursday named Kathleen Brown, a onetime California political luminary, and William Helms to be co-heads of its private bank.
Ms. Brown, appointed president of the private bank west, is responsible for private banking in California, the Pacific Northwest, and internationally.
A former state treasurer and the daughter and sister of California governors, she joined BankAmerica in 1995 after an unsuccessful campaign for the governor's office.
Mr. Helms, a veteran of the former NationsBank Corp., was named president of the private bank east. He is responsible for offices in the Southwest, Midwest, Middle Atlantic states, and Southeast. He had been southeast regional executive for NationsBank's private group since 1995.
Most recently, Mr. Helms and Ms. Brown ran California private banking together. He was responsible for the northern half of the state, and she ran the south.
The promotions were triggered by the departure last month of William Goodyear, a BankAmerica veteran who ran the private bank from Chicago.
But the appointments also come as the company has been under fire for its alleged neglect of the San Francisco market and its treatment of women executives.
The new BankAmerica was formed Sept. 30 when Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank bought BankAmerica of San Francisco.
Since the deal closed, California politicians and local community activists have accused the banking company, which is now based in Charlotte, of political insensitivity.
In an interview Friday, Ms. Brown defended the company's record.
"This is an inclusive meritocracy," she said. "If the fact that I'm a woman, and named president of a major regional division and a major organization of the bank, helps solidify that perception-great.
"I would not stay at this company if I didn't perceive that there were opportunities for women and minorities to fulfill their potential," she added.
Ms. Brown, who initiated a financial education program for women at the predecessor company, ticked off the names of female officers who have remained in BankAmerica's top ranks, including executive vice presidents in liability risk management, global corporate systems, the Chicago banking group, and marketing.
Though she admitted that the resignations of several high-ranking women had been "a loss" for the company, "it's a loss that's consistent with mergers across the board," she said.
Observers said that it is unclear whether Ms. Brown's promotion would mend the damage done to the bank in California by the merger.
Her promotion "certainly helped refute some of the accusations," said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst at Van Kasper & Co. in San Francisco.
But Robert Gnaizda, general counsel of the Greenlining Institute, a public policy advocacy group, said that Ms. Brown's new role must be as important as her title suggests.
"People are going to have to see that Kathleen Brown has enormous responsibility" to believe that the banking company's attitude toward women is equitable, he said. BankAmerica is guaranteed no benefit of the doubt, he added.
Ms. Brown, who will remain based in Los Angeles, and Mr. Helms, who will work from Atlanta, report to Owen G. "Bob" Shell, president of wealth management.