Taking a step toward interstate branching, BankAmerica Corp. announced plans this week to merge its Washington and Idaho bank units.

The merger, which is expected to be completed by yearend, woould give BankAmerica its first single bank unit operating branches in more than one state. Spokeswoman Betty Riess said the company currently has separate banks or thrifts for each of the 10 states in which it has branch operations.

Ms. Riess would not say whether further multistate mergers would follow. But observers expect BankAmerica to seek a legal structure for its 10-state network similar to the one evolving at other superregional banks, where a handful of multistate subsidiaries operate within a bank holding company.

Many superregionals see the federal interstate branching law as an opportunity to reduce their number of charters and cut administrative costs.

"The merger of our Idaho and Washington banking units will position BankAmerica to take advantage of interstate banking," said BankAmerica chairman and CEO Richard M. Rosenberg.

But BankAmerica is not taking advantage of the federal branching law. It is relying on an older rule that enables a bank to move its headquarters to another state, so long as the distance of the move is less than 30 miles, Ms. Riess said.

She also said that, though the operational headquarters of Bank of America Idaho is in Boise, the legal headquarters is in Coeur d'Alene. BankAmerica has filed applications with regulators to move that office 24 miles, to Spokane, Wash.

Then BankAmerica would merge the Spokane-based bank with its Seattle- First National Bank unit. The resulting entity would bear the official name Bank of America NW, but the names used for marketing purposes in Washington and Idaho would not change. The Washington bank would still be known as Seafirst; the Idaho unit, Bank of America Idaho.

Ms. Riess emphasized that the changes would not have a significant impact on operating costs or employment. The two banks already share many data processing and operations facilities, which leaves little room for further consolidation.

Ronald A. Slocum, the 55-year-old chairman and chief executive of the Idaho bank, is to continue to run that operation, reporting to John V. Rindlaub, 51, chairman and chief executive of the Seafirst unit. Mr. Rindlaub is also regional head for the Northwest.

The major change that would come with the merger is that only one set of regulators and filings would be required for the combined bank, rather than two.

The banks would also no longer have to be separately capitalized. Likewise, only one board of directors would be required. The current boards for the separate banks would be turned into advisory groups, Ms. Riess said. The new board for the combined bank has not been announced.

On the customer side, the major change would be that people would be able to make deposits in either Washington or Idaho, rather than being limited to doing this only in the state in which they opened their account.

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