Mercantile Bancorp., which has grown quickly with a dozen deals in three years, said it would merge its 17 bank charters into one and reorganize into three subsidiaries.

The goal, according to the $30 billion-asset company, is to improve efficiency.

St. Louis-based Mercantile declined to say how much it would cost to carry out the restructuring or how much it expected to save as a result. But analysts said the plan is not likely to affect earnings.

Mercantile said it hopes to have its charters merged by mid-1999.

The company would consolidate banking operations under one organization, MBNA Inc.; merge trust, investment, and private banking operations into Mercantile Trust Company National Association; and combine mortgage banking and credit life insurance under Mercantile Credit Corp.

Although the country's second-largest credit card company is Wilmington, Del.-based MBNA Corp., Mercantile said its subsidiary's moniker would raise no trademark issue.

"The name of our organization is Mercantile Bank National Association Inc. MBNA Inc. is an abbreviation used for organizational purposes only as a name of a second-tier holding company. The name will not be used in commerce to promote banking products and services. Therefore, there is no trademark conflict," said Nadine Genet, Mercantile's senior vice president for marketing communications.

But the reorganization means yet another round of new titles for Mercantile executives.

John P. Dubinsky, group president for Mercantile's eastern banking region, has been named chairman of MBNA. Richard C. King, group president of the western region, was named MBNA president. Joseph E. Hasten was named vice chairman of MBNA and will continue as head of corporate banking.

John W. McClure, Mercantile's vice chairman in charge of trust and financial advisory services, is to keep his title and head Mercantile Trust. Stanley J. Bradshaw, a group president in charge of mortgage servicing, will be president of Mercantile Credit Corp.

Mercantile has trailed competitors that have already merged their bank charters, which gives customers the ability to bank statewide and even across state lines. For instance, NationsBank Corp., the second-largest banking company in Missouri behind Mercantile, has consolidated its operations in the state into one bank and is moving toward a single charter.

In fact, Mercantile experienced a rash of complaints last year after it acquired Roosevelt Financial Group of St. Louis. Roosevelt, a thrift, had let customers bank at any of its branches in Missouri. But when Mercantile bought the company it merged Roosevelt into separately chartered banks, leaving customers confused and angry.

Spokeswoman Lisa Rainbolt said the current reorganization was not a result of customer service issues. "This is not a response to the reported difficulties with the Roosevelt integration," she said.

Mercantile had indicated it planned to merge bank charters but had said it did not intend to complete the process until 2001.

Since 1996, it has reduced its charters from 75 to 17.

"This has been our goal for several years," said Mercantile chairman and chief executive officer Thomas H. Jacobsen. "We are now in position to begin realizing it-we are ahead of schedule on addressing year-2000 computer issues, and we have acquired considerable experience in the integration of bank operations."

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