Compass Bancshares of Birmingham, Ala., is revamping its retail business, taking cues from the old BankAmerica organization.

The $14.5 billion-asset Compass this week begins promoting a new mortgage-by-phone service, a variant of a program that was offered by BankAmerica Corp. of San Francisco.

James D. Barri, who joined Compass last year as executive vice president and head of retail banking, is a former vice chairman of BankAmerica's Oregon subsidiary.

Over the summer he recruited former BankAmerica national client sales chief Roger S. Smith to be Compass' manager of mortgage sales. Both Mr. Barri and Mr. Smith were instrumental in the launching of BankAmerica's telephone loan program in the early 1990s.

"We're going to try not to make the same mistakes we made the first time around," Mr. Barri said. Service issues and speedy unconditional loan approvals troubled the early BankAmerica program, he said, but the business there has grown into a sizable national operation.

Compass is starting its program slowly, with seven telephone bankers taking 10 to 15 applications a day.

Compass plans to add five people this month. The goal is 100 applications a week, Mr. Smith said.

Other initiatives are in store for Compass' mortgage business, but Mr. Smith is keeping them quiet.

"We want to concentrate on one thing at a time," he said.

R. Harold Schroeder, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said the Compass retail efforts are well timed.

"Their efficiency ratio has been going in the wrong direction," he said. "Many things have not been working out well for them, other than the acquisition of a lot of Texas banks."

Mr. Barri is overseeing the rollout of a small-business product in the next 30 days. He would not discuss details but said the company hopes to attract customers put off by the new BankAmerica, resulting from the Sept. 30 merger with NationsBank Corp. of Charlotte, N.C.

"We're going to have a personalized approach," he said. "Banks our size will have a better shot at the small-business markets than some of the bigger banks."

Compass is expanding its home equity offerings with a home improvement product. One focus will be Texas, which last year began letting banks make home equity loans.

Compass also recently tapped Schneider Management, a Denver consulting firm, to improve its sales culture.

Other retail changes include the naming of three market presidents in Texas. Scott Flowers, a former U.S. Bancorp executive, is chief retail banking executive in Dallas; John Holt, formerly of BankAmerica, oversees the Houston market; and John Di Fede, another BankAmerica executive, came in for the San Antonio market.

"We're really building a good team," Mr. Barri said. "This bank has a lot of potential."

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