BOATMEN'S BANCSHARES WILL INHERIT a high-profile community banking operation if its takeover of First Amarillo Bancorp. is approved.

The question is: Will the St. Louis-based company keep a unique service that the Texas bank recently put in gear?

Last month, Amarillo started delivering banking services to its customers' doorsteps. After applications for loans and new accounts are taken over the phone, bank employees deliver prepared papers to customers' homes for their signatures.

"In the past some banks have had this for special customers," said Sharon Brown, senior vice president of marketing at First Amarillo, "but our purpose is to begin the total shift to total banking by phone."

The program, known as the "Ultimate Fast Offer," began six weeks ago as a promotion for new checking accounts. But Ms. Brown said the bank will offer almost all of its services for delivery.

But the delivery service is not for everyone. Ms. Brown said that about 60% of customers have chosen to drop in at the bank because the forms are prepared and they know they won't have to wait in line.

The service builds on a program Amarillo started in 1991 -- a mobile branch in a double-decker bus, "Bob the Bankwagon," which features an automated teller machine and a full-service teller.

"The Amarillo market is very competitive, and we've had to work hard to keep introducing new products and services," Ms. Brown said. "The public is so barraged by different bank promotions that we needed something really unique."

First Amarillo saw its share of deposits in the Amarillo area grow to 30.4% in 1992 from 26.2% in 1991, widening its lead in the market. As of June 30, its return on average assets was a healthy 1.7%

Says Takeover Won't Change Approach

These results were strong enough for Boatmen's Bancshares to agree in July to purchase the bank in a stock swap valued at roughly $175 million.

Don Powell, First Amarillo's chairman and chief executive, said the takeover will not change the bank's aggressive community banking approach.

Chris Williston, president of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, agrees.

The deal will be "as transparent as any merger can be as far as business as usual," he said.

Mr. Powell likens his bank's delivery services to those pioneered by Domino's Pizza. "Looking at what First Amarillo did, I think the same is going to be true in banking through the telephone and television," he said.

And this step toward the future has also been relatively inexpensive, he added. Thirty drivers, drawn from among the bank's 400 employees, perform the deliveries -- often on their way home or to lunch. All bank officers are required to make two or three deliveries per week, Ms. Brown said.

A Unique Situation

Mr. Williston, the trade group president, said he does not see home delivery as the wave of the future, viewing the Program rather as a reaction to the unique spread-out nature of Amarillo's metropolitan area. Elsewhere, he said, the higher concentration of ATMs would undercut the appeal of the program.

But the program might have reprecussions beyond the marketing gains. mr. Powell said the bank already has seen an increase in the number of homebound customers who previously would have found it difficult to open an account. And he hopes the program will reach into areas that have few services.

The program also "is helping us in changing the mindset of our employees to make everything easier for the customer," Ms. Brown said.

Mr. Schoenke writes for the Medill News Service.

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