BankAmerica Corp. is asking regulators for permission to open 285 branches of its thrift subsidiary in supermarkets and other locations across the country. If approved, the plan would extend BankAmerica's retail branch network into all 50 states, including such banking centers as New York and North Carolina. BankAmerica currently has retail branches only in California and nine other western states. According to officials with the Office of Thrift Supervision, where the applications were filed, 188 of the new branches would be in Osco/Jewel supermarkets in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Many of the rest would be in existing BankAmerica offices in states around the country, including offices for mortgages and commercial finance. BankAmerica spokesman Peter Magnani said the company is seeking to ensure that it has branching authority in the states but has not yet decided what products the branches will offer. Some observers speculated that many of the offices would focus on delivering electronic banking services. BankAmerica began filing the applications for the plan in the spring, with the most recent filed on Sept. 27. OTS officials said that regulators have asked for more information. Once that information is obtained, the regulators will have 30 days to approve or deny the branch opening requests. Gil Schwartz, a partner with the Washington law firm Schwartz & Ballen, said he expected BankAmerica to use the branches to get a jump on interstate branching for commercial banks, which doesn't become legal nationally until July of 1996. Karen Shaw-Petrou, president of the Washington-based consulting firm ISD/Shaw, added that BankAmerica may be trying to exploit the advantages of its thrift charter before Congress eliminates it. As part of legislation to shore up the thrift insurance fund, Congress is considering forcing thrifts to convert to bank charters. "They're protecting their franchise in the event that Congress does ultimately act," she said. Gene Galloway, executive vice president and head of retail banking for Sanwa Bank California, said he expected BankAmerica to use the offices to sell Managing Your Money personal finance and home banking software from Meca Software Inc., which BankAmerica acquired earlier this year with NationsBank. He said the offices could serve as anchor locations for signing up bank customers within 15 or 20 miles. The model, he said, could be similar to the way brokerage companies like Charles Schwab & Co. sell investment services. Washington bureau chief Barbara A. Rehm contributed to this story.
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