Seafirst, a banking fixture in Seattle for 125 years, will fade into history in 2001, according to BankAmerica Corp.'s new Pacific Northwest retail chief.
Marie Gunn said the Seafirst name will disappear about the time the computer conversions from the NationsBank Corp.-BankAmerica merger are completed. BankAmerica bought Seafirst in 1983.
"Our goal is to let people know that the sign over the door may change, but we'll still be here just like before," Ms. Gunn said in an interview. She was named president of Seafirst and Northwest consumer executive of the parent company last week.
In her new post, the 30-year Seafirst veteran will oversee consumer, business, and high-net worth banking in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
Ms. Gunn has learned how to keep customers happy in a merger.
In 1992, when BankAmerica was in the midst of its Security Pacific Corp. acquisition, she spearheaded a successful customer retention program via mailings and a telephone blitz. In this latest merger, Ms. Gunn said, high- value clients were notified by phone and letter after the deal was announced Sept. 30.
Ms. Gunn assumes her role at a crucial time for Seafirst, which has long been one of BankAmerica's strongest performing units.
Though a bank risks alienating clients by changing a successful brand name, deteriorating service is the quickest way to drive away customers, said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst with Van Kasper & Co., San Francisco.
The merger of BankAmerica and NationsBank is "bound to have some impact on customer levels, given the tremendous equity that has been built up with the Seafirst name," Mr. Morford said. "But a name doesn't matter as much as service does."
Once NationsBank's "model bank" retail platform is in place in Seafirst offices, Ms. Gunn said, the only major change will be employees who are better equipped to know all about their customers.
"No matter where in the country our customers go, tellers anywhere will be able to access all of their account information," Ms. Gunn said. Ms. Gunn was an executive vice president and human resources manager at Seafirst. She also was a relationship manager for consumer banking in the Northwest, Southwest, and California.