BOK Financial Corp. is out to show the banking world that size does not matter in the game of buying securities firms.
With $5.6 billion of assets, the Tulsa, Okla.-based bank holding company is the smallest in the securities business. But last week it agreed to buy the Oklahoma City-based securities firm Leo Oppenheim & Co. The deal is expected to close in the next two months.
Charles D. Williamson, executive vice president of capital markets for Bank of Oklahoma and chairman of BOK's securities unit, Alliance Securities Corp., said the acquisition would complement Alliance's emphasis on municipal bond underwriting.
"We plan to take advantage of the Oppenheim name, which is very widely known in Oklahoma," Mr. Williamson said. "But what you are mainly buying in a deal like this is talent."
Oppenheim would become a division of Alliance and keep its name.
Oppenheim, which has been financing municipalities for 79 years, is the largest Oklahoma-based underwriter of municipal revenue bonds. With the expanded powers BOK received from the Federal Reserve last year, the bank holding company can now dip into that market.
Morris Hatley, Oppenheim's president, said the opportunity to enhance his distribution network - BOK has about 30 bond traders, Oppenheim five- made the deal attractive.
Mr. Hatley said he hopes BOK's capital base would allow Oppenheim to underwrite larger deals, similar to the largest bond Oppenheim has underwritten-a $101 million refunding of the Oklahoma County Home Finance Authority in 1991. The firm's deals typically range from $10 to $20 million, he said.
Mr. Hatley said he did not initiate the search for a merger partner. He said he had four unsolicited bids in the last year, from two regional investment banks and one commercial bank.
"The industry is merging, both on a smaller basis and a larger basis," he said. "When people contact you, you listen."
BOK formed Alliance last year, when it received Tier 1 underwriting powers from the Federal Reserve. The bank was already Oklahoma's largest underwriter of general obligation municipal bonds.
Currently Alliance just contains the bank's public finance activities. But BOK executives plan to combine the bank's sales and trading operations within Alliance, its section 20 subsidiary.
BOK executives are also considering applying to the Federal Reserve for Tier 2 powers, according to Mr. Williamson, who said they are interested in underwriting commercial mortgage-backed securities.
The expanded powers BOK received last year let the bank underwrite mortgage-backed and asset-backed bonds and consumer receivables.
Alliance is working on a couple of receivables that it expects to issue this year, according to Mr. Williamson.
The combined unit would employ more than 60 sales representatives and 14 public finance investment bankers in four southern cities: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Dallas, and Little Rock.
Mr. Hatley is slated to become an advisory board member of Alliance and president of the combined public finance group after the merger.
The acquisition has been approved by the boards of BOK, Alliance, and Oppenheim.