Just how many states would the merged NationsBank Corp.- BankAmerica Corp. serve? That depends upon whether you ask the Federal Reserve Board or the banks.

In its Aug. 17 order approving the $60 billion deal, the Fed said the combined bank would operate "full-service" branches in 27 states. That must have come as a shock to the banks, which have reported they would operate in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

Within an hour of approving the merger, the Fed had scaled back its figure to 26 states, saying the higher number was a typo. Still, the sides were off by four states.

Interviews with officials at the Fed and the banks revealed that the Fed got creative when counting states. First, it considered the District of Columbia a state. It also counted New York, where BankAmerica operates a facility that offers global banking services to foreign customers but does not provide retail services to domestic consumers. Delaware, home to NationsBank's credit card business, also was on the Fed's list, though the bank does not offer retail services there.

Kentucky is the final state in dispute. The Fed counted it because NationsBank owns three branches there, though they are being sold to Area Bancshares in a deal that closes today.

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