Mega-mergers can make sense in the boardroom and still self-destruct in the market by alienating customers. The problem: Empire-building can uncover the commodity nature of the financial services industry as institutions play a game of musical names, weakening the underlying value of their brands.

The idea that financial institutions are retailers selling a commodity- money-under a brand or series of brands makes many in the business uncomfortable. "We don't see ourselves as being in the business of selling money," says Helen Eggers, senior vice president of branding and marketing at NationsBank. "We're in the business of making life better and easier for people, and helping them achieve their dreams."

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