The heads of Banc One Corp. and First Chicago NBD Corp. defended their planned megamerger against protest from community activists in a daylong Federal Reserve hearing Thursday.
"At Banc One, community needs represent business opportunities, and collaboration creates customers," said John B. McCoy, chairman and chief executive officer. "We will take the best of both (banks') programs and come out with a better one."
Verne G. Istock, First Chicago's chairman, president, and chief executive officer, disputed criticism that the new bank will be too big to serve small communities. "The intensity of our efforts in every local community we serve will not decrease," he said. "It will increase. The products and services we provide will increase."
Opponents of the $30 billion deal testified first, blasting the partners for refusing to make the kind of big-dollar Community Reinvestment Act commitment that has become common in megamergers.
"Absent such an agreement, we don't understand how the Federal Reserve can evaluate the convenience and needs of the merger," said Malcolm Bush, president of the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based housing think tank. "Detailed CRA plans and sound community agreements are a necessary part of a successful merger application."
Ted Wysocki, executive director at CANDO, a Chicago-based housing group, said the Fed should force Banc One to sign CRA deals with local groups. "Let the market work, but use your regulatory authority to ensure it works in every market," he said.
The hearing was disrupted by Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now members who waved signs and chanted "No B.S." so loudly that Fed officials had to shout to question Mr. McCoy and Mr. Istock.
The afternoon panelists enthusiastically supported the merger.
Liz Ryan, lead housing and banking staffer at the National Training and Information Center, a Chicago-based housing advocacy group, said both banks are willing to work with local groups, even if they will not commit to a national CRA deal. For instance, the banks recently renewed two reinvestment programs in Chicago that could result in nearly $7 billion in new lending. "Instead of empty promises and sound bites, First Chicago and Banc One have made a commitment of substance," she said.
Charlie H. Smith Jr., executive director of the Wilmington Housing Authority, said Banc One and First Chicago have always been willing to help finance work on public housing projects in Delaware. "I'm surprised there has been so much opposition," he said. "The relationships we have are positive ones."
Gladys Hunt, an organizer of the Community Collaboration for Economic Development in Texas, said Banc One helped the group create a small- business development program. "Banc One has been there every step of the way since the beginning," she said.
In a press conference following their remarks, Mr. McCoy said there is no need to enter a national CRA deal because his bank makes community reinvestment a priority in all its acquisitions.
"You're going to hear a lot of pro, you'll hear some con," Mr. McCoy said. "And it's part of the American way. Both Verne and I see CRA is terribly important."
The CEOs' press conference was abruptly ended when activists from Acorn and affiliated groups burst into the room and chanted, "We're fed up. We won't take it no more."
Mr. McCoy and Mr. Istock walked out of the room with a caravan of community activists shouting questions, mostly at Mr. McCoy.
The merger, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter, would create a $230 billion institution with 1,950 branches in 16 states. This is the ninth hearing on megabank mergers that the Fed has held.
The general comment period on the deal closed Thursday. Hearing witnesses have until Aug. 20 to submit final comments. The transcript of the hearing will be available Aug. 19 on the Fed's Web site at www.bog.frb.fed.us.