Hugh L. McColl Jr. said he was "elated" to hear about passage of the interstate banking bill. And well he should be: The chairman and CEO of NationsBank Corp. put more effort into lobbying for the legislation than any other banker in the country.

Mr. McColl, speaking on Wednesday from his car phone, said he first learned of the bill's passage around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday while his plane was landing in Richmond.

"One of the pilots, as we landed, said it had just came over their screen from our hangar that the bill had been passed. It was anticlimactic," Mr. McColl added. "It was just sot of, gosh, it's finally happened It was a sense of relief more than elation. But nevertheless, I was elated after that."

Mr. McColl said the bill would strengthen the banking industry as a whole by allowing companies to diversify their assets over several regions

"We already have enough experience to know that banks that are confined to single markets run a higher risk of having disasters," he said.

He reiterated NationsBank's previous estimate that the ability to consolidate multistate charters would provide the nation's fourth-largest bank with about $50 million a year in cost savings.

"We actually think the number is higher, but that's the number we can prove:' he said.

Asked whether Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank would rise the bill's interstate powers to expand into other regions, as so many analysts have predicted, Mr. McColl gave a qualified yes.

"The law will allow us more flexibility to take advantage of opportunities that might arise across the country," he said. "But I don't think this legislation, in and of itself, sets us in motion in trying to have geographic expansion.

"We continue to look for opportunities, but those are usually presented when somebody finds it difficult to make money or whatever.

We're still mainly concentrating on the South, where we see the greatest opportunity. We may expand further in the South, and the law has nothing to do with that."

Mr. McColl was an early and enthusiastic supporter of interstate banking and branching legislation.

He has testified before Congress several times on the issue, beginning in 1991, when the Bush administration first attempted to pass a bill.

At that time, he was chairman and CEO of NationsBank's predecessor company, NCNB Corp.

Mr. McColl's highly visible role annoyed some bankers in the Southeast who did not harbor national ambitions and wished to retain regional barriers.

He also antagonized the Independent Bankers Association of America, the trade group for community bankers, who view interstate branching as a threat to their franchises.

In 1992, the IBBA launched a lobbying campaign using the slogan "Don't let Hugh McColl control Congress."

In a mailing the association asked its 5,000 or so members to write their representatives expressing opposition to interstate branching.

But Mr. McColl had important industry allies, including the CEOs of BankAmerica Corp., First Interstate Bancorp, Fleet Financial Group Inc., and Norwest Corp.

Mr. McColl went out of his way in 1992 to establish cordial relations with presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who later heralded him as "the most enlightened banker in America."

Meanwhile, NationsBank's political action committee turned up the heat. contributing $387,450 to congressional candidates during the first 15 months of the 1993-94 election cycle, almost double the comparable amount in 1991-92, according to the National Journal.

Mr. McColl on Wednesday downplayed NationsBank's role in passing the legislation.

"We, as usual, were drawing all the fire. But Bank of America and the others worked hard on it."

And as for his relationship with President Clinton. "while I know the President, it would be an overstatement to say that I have any influence with the President."

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