Rejecting complaints filed by the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota, the Federal Reserve Board has given Norwest Corp. permission to acquire Amerigroup Inc.
The deal, approved April 29, gives the Minneapolis-based superregional control of $160 million-asset Ameribank in neighboring Bloomington, Minn.
Norwest spokeswoman Patrice Vick said the bank hopes to complete the deal by the end of the month. She declined to comment about the details of the Fed's order.
The Independent Community Bankers had urged the Fed to kill the deal, arguing that Norwest has "colluded" to keep other electronic banking providers from accessing its ATM network. In particular, the trade group said Norwest refused to negotiate with Shazam Inc., a not-for-profit ATM network that serves community banks. The group said this constitutes an illegal restraint of trade under antitrust laws.
The Fed, however, rejected the claim. It said that because Ameribank operates only two terminals and doesn't provide ATM network access to other institutions, the merger wouldn't affect competition for ATM services. The Fed also noted that Norwest has agreed to negotiate with Shazam.
Finally, the Fed said the Independent Community Bankers was pursuing its claims before the wrong agency. It said the central bank is restricted to interpreting the Bank Holding Company Act. Antitrust complaints should be referred to the Justice Department or filed as lawsuits in federal court.
Allen I. Olson, president of the Independent Community Bankers, said he wasn't surprised by the Fed's decision. "It was a long shot," he said of the challenge.
Still, he said he will continue to fight for community bank access to ATM networks. "We are more determined than ever to elevate this issue to a national discussion," he said. "Whatever actions we can take or encourage others to take to further that goal, we will do so. It is an issue that goes to the very survival of community financial institutions."
Barbara F. Bronstien contributed to this report.