Banc One Corp. may sell as many as 200 small-town and rural branches during the next couple of years, analysts and sources close to the company said.
The $112.5 billion-asset Columbus, Ohio, banking company has already agreed to sell 37 branches in small towns in Arizona, Colorado, and Utah to Community First Bankshares, Fargo, N.D. That announcement, made this month, was the first of many to come, the analysts and sources said.
Banc One also is packaging branches for sale in Texas, although it's unclear how many of its 189 offices in that state will be sold. Texas has the company's second-largest branch network. It operates about 400 offices in its home state and also owns banks in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
David Thomas, director of retail distribution for Banc One, said the company would not comment on branch divestiture plans.
"This sale of locations is one component of several activities," Mr. Thomas said. "The strategy includes consolidation of some offices, the opening of some offices, the sale of some offices, and the refurbishing of some."
In July the company said it took a $96.4 million charge in the second quarter related to a streamlining of the retail branch network. As part of that effort, Banc One said it would consolidate 200 branches in 18 months, replacing many with automated locations.
But analyst Anthony Davis of SBC Warburg Dillon Read Inc. said Banc One had announced at an analysts' conference in Phoenix last March that 25% of its 1,500 branches would be eliminated in the next couple of years. "When you start to look at that, that's a lot closer to 400 branches eliminated rather than 200 branches," he said.
Banc One is clearly not alone among companies shrinking their traditional-branch networks. Competitors, including Cleveland-based KeyCorp and National City Corp., have also announced plans to sell, close, or replace traditional branches with smaller or automated sites. BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp. have also been divesting branches in the past year.
"All large banks are very focused on optimizing their distribution," said Joseph Duwan, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. Banc One, which once considered itself a giant "partnership" of community banks, has a much different focus now than it has had, Mr. Duwan said. Part of this includes greater emphasis on electronic banking, a concept more widely accepted in metropolitan areas rather than rural markets, he said.
Of the 37 offices and $640 million of deposits Banc One recently agreed to sell in the West, none was in a large market. Community First said it would pay $38 million, or about a 6% premium, for the deposits.
Sources familiar with the planned sale of Texas branches, which would go in three groups, said Banc One is hoping to get about a 5% premium on deposits.
Mr. Davis said Banc One was catching up with other large superregionals, such as NationsBank, that have been selling their less profitable branches.
For banking companies interested in serving small communities, the sale of branches by Banc One and other large companies could be an opportunity to expand market share.
"We like the prospect that there may be opportunities," said Donald R. Mengedoth, chief executive of Community First.