New York attorney Stephen Rabin spent months haggling with the chairman of a community bank to raise his credit line from $40,000 to $45,000 and then to $50,000.
"We had to fight for every dollar," said Mr. Rabin, who runs the securities law firm Rabin & Peckel in Manhattan and previously banked at Sterling National Bank.
Then Mr. Rabin responded to a letter from the former Chemical Banking Corp., and a team of three bankers came to his office with forms to authorize a $750,000 credit line.
The larger credit line provides a life raft for Mr. Rabin, who is responsible for salaries and expenses at his seven-lawyer firm. The firm has a cash flow that fluctuates depending on when legal settlements are reached.
In keeping Mr. Rabin satisfied, Chase Manhattan Corp. is bucking two trends in the banking industry. Small-business owners tend to be happier at community banks and usually have complaints about service immediately after a banking merger, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
In fact, 17% of the small-business owners surveyed last year said they had switched banks immediately after a merger. But Mr. Rabin said Chase's merger with Chemical did not affect service.
After Chemical merged with Chase, the bank raised the law firm's credit line-first to $850,000 and then to $1 million.
For Mr. Rabin, one of the most important factors in his new banking relationship is that he doesn't have to twist his banker's arm to get his credit limit increased.
At Sterling National Bank, a $707 million-asset New York institution that focuses on small business, the promises that customers could meet with top-level bank officers didn't mean much, Mr. Rabin said.
"Sure, we could call the chairman to get an increase in our credit line, but he wouldn't give it to us," Mr. Rabin said. "At Chase, I don't have to call the chairman because the lower-level people have the authority to give us what we wish."
Sterling chairman Louis J. Cappelli said he can't address the particulars of Mr. Rabin's departure but said the bank has increased its focus on small-business customers. Mr. Cappelli said Sterling issues credit lines of up to $10 million for small businesses in various industries.
"We can't be everything to all people," Mr. Cappelli said. "We try to focus on personal contact, and small business is an area that we actively pursue."
Anthony Burzo, Chase assistant manager for commercial and professional lending, said the bank was able to approve the larger credit line because people with lending authority attended the initial meeting.
"It's a matter of bringing the right people to the table," Mr. Burzo said, "so if they have any concerns, they can be addressed right there."
Mr. Burzo said Chase focuses extra efforts on lawyers and accountants who can refer other small-business customers to the bank. One of Chase's branch-based bankers personally brings forms to Mr. Rabin's office for him to sign.
Mr. Rabin said Sterling became more responsive once the officers learned the larger bank was wooing his business. But the defensive tactics didn't work.
"As soon as they discovered Chase was willing to grant us a much larger line, their purses opened," Mr. Rabin said. "But it was too late then."