Having just bought 60 former Barnett Banks branches, Huntington Bancshares is trying to do things the Barnett way.

Huntington, based in Columbus, Ohio, nearly doubled its Florida presence with the branches divested by Barnett's acquirer, NationsBank Corp., to satisfy Justice Department antitrust concerns.

With 115 branches and $4 billion of deposits in central and western Florida, the company is intent on attracting Barnett loyalists and aggressively going after new business, said Martin P. Mahan, a 12-year Barnett veteran who is now senior vice president and western Florida executive for Huntington.

"The whole landscape has changed when you take a player like Barnett out of the market," Mr. Mahan said. "You've got 3.5 million customers forced to shop for a bank."

NationsBank, which disagrees with that premise, has yet to even change the name on its Barnett branches-though that will be done in October. The merged company will market the convenience of 860 Florida offices, more than any other bank.

"No matter how small or large a bank is, it is still a people business," said NationsBank spokesman George Owen. "We at Barnett and NationsBank have a long-established reputation for service, and we welcome competition from other institutions."

Huntington, as an out-of-stater, faces long odds in trying to be Barnett's retail banking heir, said Kenneth Thomas, a Miami-based consultant. He said community banks will tend to benefit more from post- merger fallout.

Mr. Mahan joined Huntington in January. He was Barnett's director of retail delivery and had a job with NationsBank. But he said he preferred Huntington because its culture seemed similar to Barnett's. He said he has hired more than 50 Barnett employees to help build Huntington's business in western Florida.

Mr. Mahan said the company is considering buying buildings expected to be left vacant by NationsBank, which has said it would close 200 branches in Florida by yearend. Bank acquisitions are also possible but there are no obvious targets that could substantially increase Huntington's presence in its big markets of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Fort Myers.

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