Employees of NationsBanc Montgomery Securities LLC should be handing out new business cards today.
The investment banking unit of Bank of America Corp. is expected to change its name to Banc of America Securities LLC-a move that executives have been quietly preparing clients for in recent months.
"It's a transition that has caught up with reality," said Lewis W. Coleman, a Bank of America senior managing director and co-executive director of investment banking. "It doesn't mean that the next day we will do anything differently."
Indeed, the banking company planned to emphasize continuity today in an advertisement trumpeting the billions of dollars of deals done by "a company that didn't exist last week."
Though Bank of America Corp.'s securities unit will be following in the footsteps of other subsidiaries of the Charlotte, N.C., banking company, some executives said they are hoping the move will bring closure to a messy period in the firm's recent history.
The announcement last year that the old BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp. would merge touched off a power struggle between NationsBank's management and Thomas Weisel, Montgomery's founder.
Mr. Weisel left the company-taking a big chunk of the equities management team with him. One gripe that many Montgomery employees had at the time was uncertainty about their brand name, which had some clout in investment banking circles.
Bank of America's equities distribution arm will still be called the "Montgomery division"-Mr. Coleman said he does not care which brand employees use when answering the phone-but the moniker will vanish from all promotional materials.
"There is always some sense of nostalgia," said Michael J. Murray, Bank of America's president of global corporate and investment banking. But the Bank of America brand has global recognition, he said. "We didn't need to spend millions on consultants to tell us that we've got the best brand. America's hot right now."
The banking company has spent heavily this year to recruit 20 top executives for its equities and mergers and acquisitions advisory team, which Mr. Coleman heads up. He said his first goal is to use that staff to tap the bank's vast corporate client base.
Bank of America said that its customers accounted for 60% of the total fees paid for domestic M&A advisory work in the first quarter and 35% of the fees for underwriting U.S. equities and convertibles. Mr. Coleman estimated that his group reaped about 2% of those fees.
"We believe we should be, and can be," the recipient of much more of that business, Mr. Coleman said, estimating that his company ranks about seventh among advisers and underwriters to Bank of America clients.
The banking company's senior management wants to boost noninterest income as a percentage of its bottom line, and Mr. Coleman said he thinks global commercial and investment banking will be key to making that happen.
Bank of America's income from investment banking has grown by roughly 50% each of the last two years, to about $2 billion in 1998. But the figures are muddied because the company sold a part of its securities group-Robertson Stephens-in the third quarter of 1998.
Though Mr. Coleman is focusing on the United States, he says he plans to put equities and M&A employees in Europe early next year and expects the number of professionals there to climb to about 200 by the end of 2000.
Though he would not rule out a European securities firm acquisition, he said he would look for something cheap and relatively small-so it would be easy to assimilate. Just now, he said, he does not see much available that fits that description, "unless someone changes their business plan in Europe."
The bank's capital markets subsidiary has already started building a debt group in London, with about 30 people in both fixed-income and loan syndications, and more expected soon.
"Returns are relatively low in Europe in the lending business," Mr. Coleman said. "So substituting some of the bank's relationships in the lending business with the capital markets business should improve returns."
So far this year, he said, his group has advised four European targets and one acquirer. As a result, the bank's European M&A volume reached $433 million.
With an eye toward improving the bank's standing in the underwriting league tables, he said he will focus less on being a co-agent on small U.S. deals and more on leading transactions.
Bank of America runs neck-and-neck with Chase Manhattan Corp. asthe top U.S. company in loan syndications, and it almost tied market leader Chase in leading leveraged loans last quarter.
But Bank of America still must catch up to the Wall Street titans in the high-yield and equities arenas. It fell short of the top 10 in lead-manager tables, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data.
Mr. Coleman said many of the strongest industry groups at Montgomery Securities Inc.-the original San Francisco firm acquired by NationsBank in October 1997-matched Bank of America's core set of franchises, especially in technology and health care.
But now, he said, the unit has expanded its equity coverage to include more basic industries such as energy and transportation, which are strengths of the commercial bank.
Still, he said, he will not let his decisions be determined by the commercial bank's platform.
"I think the commercial bank is important, but we are not designing our strategy to fit within a commercial bank," Mr. Coleman said, describing Bank of America as a large financial services company much like Citigroup or, for that matter, Charles Schwab & Co.
"We will probably give priority to resources where a customer is involved, or when we think there is a potential of turning them into a bank customer," he said.
But ultimately, Mr. Coleman and other senior managers at the global corporate and investment banking unit hope to take on Wall Street's bulge- bracket firms. The fact that the unit is part of a commercial banking company should make little difference over time, Mr. Coleman added.