Corporate culture clash is often cited as a potential obstacle to successful bank mergers.
But the challenges of blending disparate management styles are sometimes less formidable than the perils of consolidating corporate facilities and retail branch systems.
This is a process prone to critical mistakes that can sap the benefits from even the best conceived merger-and-acquisition strategies.
Maximizing customer retention and minimizing operating expenses are among the primary objectives of all bank mergers. Here's how to avoid undermining those goals by attending to a few basic steps in the consolidation process:
Due diligence. No competent management would consummate an M&A transaction without appropriate due diligence on the credit risk of the target institution.
But due diligence on the real estate and operating facilities often gets much less attention - mostly because of time and confidentiality constraints.
As a result, senior management can wind up lacking accurate data on even basic property portfolio issues, such as which facilities are owned rather than leased, when leases expire, and other real estate market factors, such as environmental risks.
In those circumstances, troublesome surprises are commonplace.
In a case not long ago, for example, a branch being acquired was across the street from property that formerly housed a gas station whose underground tanks, it was later learned, had leaked toxic material under the bank building.
The solution was to find another buyer willing to assume the risk and arrange a sale-leaseback so the bank could continue operating on the site. This maneuvering, however, contributed nothing to economic efficiency.
To cite another example: One midsize bank not long ago set out to apply its stand-up teller services to a branch network it had just absorbed, only to realize belatedly that the acquired facilities were built for the more personal style of sit-down tellers. Remodeling costs were considerable.
How could it be possible that no one noticed this discrepancy in advance? The answer is really quite simple: The strategic decision-makers wouldn't be expected to ask whether the tellers' work space is designed for standing or sitting; this is an issue to be addressed by a facilities analysis.
When little or no such analysis is done - as is often the case - costly oversights should be no surprise.
Project deferrals. One of the worst ways to execute a consolidation is to defer certain parts of it. Such deferrals, understandably, are a common response of corporate real estate managers who try to minimize their own risks when the pressures of time and the high-profile nature of the project subject them to intense executive scrutiny.
But the real estate manager who opts for unnecessary deferrals fails to understand that senior management prefers to pay for all costs during conversion, in order to take advantage of tax benefits and shareholder expectation of such expenses.
Deferrals also mean that customers and employees will be exposed to the recurring nuisances of construction and equipment swap-outs on the premises for longer than is absolutely necessary.
Human resources sensitivities. The inevitable job losses that accompany consolidation often hurt customer relations.
That's because front-line employees who harbor anxiety and-or bitterness concerning their job status can and do impart those feelings to customers, who may also be getting predatory marketing approaches from competing banks.
Add the frenzy of merger-related corporate real estate inspections and construction activities, and you have the potential for serious discord.
But sensitivity and timely internal communications, along with job counseling and reasonable severance, can forestall much of this unpleasantness and preserve good will, both internally and externally. Most employees accept the reality of today's insecure job market; they want to be addressed candidly and with respect.
Mr. Heery is chairman and chief executive officer of Satulah Group, a San Francisco-based bank consulting firm. Mr. Sharp is its senior vice president, based in Los Angeles.