In a bold move to fire up its work force, BankAmerica Corp. unveiled on Tuesday what may be the most sweeping employee stock ownership program in the industry.
Some 85,000 of the company's 93,200 employees will be eligible for the plan, which chief executive David A. Coulter announced via satellite to employees gathered at 26 sites, including movie theaters and hotel ballrooms.
"This is one of the most innovative and valuable stock option plans anywhere in the world," Mr. Coulter declared. "It will affect more employees at more levels than any plan out there."
Analysts and consultants agreed the Bank of America plan appears to cover a far greater portion of employees than the programs of other banks. Any employee who has worked at least 60 hours in the preceding quarter is eligible for the plan, which took effect Monday.
"It represents a significant innovation in the banking industry," said Charles King, an associate in the rewards practice at William M. Mercer Inc., a consulting firm. "It tells the employees that the shareholders want to have the rank-and-file on their side. That's a pretty powerful message."
Only a handful of banks - including Norwest Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., and NationsBank Corp. - are known to have somewhat comparable plans. In fact, of 259 major financial service companies, only eight had stock plans that included employees who make less than $50,000, according to a recent survey by William M. Mercer.
BankAmerica officials at the presentation Tuesday said their plan differs from those at other banks not only in how deep it goes into the employee base, but also in the frequency with which the stock options are awarded.
Employees, depending on their grade level, are eligible to receive between 50 and 90 shares every six months, at a grant price of $95.18, the stock's average price on Monday.
The stock vests in stages over three years. An employee can exercise up to one-third of his or her options at the end of each year, choosing either to cash out or invest in more stock.
Employees do not have to pay for the stock. After five years all of an employee's stock options must be exercised.
"We just want our employees to perform customer service with the zest of an owner," Mr. Coulter said.
He added that the plan should be "slightly dilutive" to earnings, but that over the long-term, increased earnings should outpace the additional stock.
"This is quite staggering when you take a look at it," said Carole Berger, an analyst with Salomon Brothers. "But this is a great way to make employees feel more tied to the organization and to its performance."
Ms. Berger calculated that if all of the employees acquired the minimum 50 shares, that would translate into an additional 25.5 million shares in three years. The company had 358.9 million shares outstanding as of Sept. 30.
"I don't see any impact on 1996 earnings," said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst with Alex. Brown & Sons. "And maybe a few pennies off in 1997, but that seems a small cost given the huge intangible benefits."
The bank's San Francisco employees, who gathered at the Galaxy theater on Sutter Ave. here, clapped and laughed throughout much of the unique telecast, which seemed like a morning news show at times.
One employee who asked not to be identified said, "That was pretty impressive. Clearly, customer service is important here."
Asked why the grand forum for the announcement, Mr. Coulter said, "We don't have to be shy here. This is a big deal for us, so we think it's worthy of this kind of presentation."