SEATTLE - NationsBank Corp. will continue to boost its consumer and middle-market banking businesses, and does not intend to become a wholesale, money-center-style institution, chairman Hugh McColl said in an interview.
"I'd say that (the money-center image) is a misconception," Mr. McColl said. "If you look at the figures, what you'll see is that the percentage of our business in consumer banking and areas like mortgage banking, auto finance, and commercial finance is growing in double digits.
"The rest tends to be old-fashioned middle-market business." he added.
Mr. McColl's remarks came during an interview last week at the International Monetary Conference, an annual gathering of the world's top bankers and central bankers sponsored by the American Bankers Association.
The $171 billion-asset superregional, based in Charlotte, N.C., bank has blown hot and cold on whether it is seeking to merge with a large wholesale institution.
As a result, some analysts have said the bank suffers from an identity crisis. Confusion over where NationsBank might be heading caused its share price to slide earlier this year.
Most recently, NationsBank was the subject of speculation that it might move to acquire Chase Manhattan Corp. or another maoney-center bank.
NationsBank subsequently denied it was actively seeking to purchase Chase. Mr. McColl has also indicated that any acquisition that could lead to a dilution in earnings is unlikely.
"I doubt they would do anything that would do anything that would hurt their stock or their shareholders," said Thomas Hanley, senior banking analyst with CS First Boston.
Mr. Hanley observed that the bank's stock price has rebounded since Mr. McColl has sought to put to rest rumors about the possible purchase of a money-center.
Mr. McColl said that even if NationsBank has taken on some of the trappings of a money-center bank - it acquired a Chicago-based hedging company and became a major syndicator of high-yield debt, for example - these businesses are still geared to serve the bank's middle market customers.
"Becoming the second most important loan syndicator doesn't make you a money-center bank," Mr. McColl observed. "It's still lending, and lending is our business."
One of his top current concerns, he added, was to give the bank's loan portfolio a better mix by reducing commercial real estate lending and increase consumer lending.
"You get more predictability, higher yields, and you reduce risk, because there's a lack of concentration" in consumer lending, Mr. McColl observed.
NationsBank has a lower percentage of consumer loans than many other regional banks. At the latest count, the bank had $12.6 billion in consumer loans, or 12% of a total portfolio of $103.7 billion. That compares with 23% at Barnett Banks Inc., 28% at Norwest Corp., and 22% at Keycorp.