CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For the first year in almost a decade, executives at Bank of America Corp. do not have to worry about closing a merger. And James Hance Jr., vice chairman and chief financial officer, says he couldn't be happier.
"Since 1992, we have basically had a megamerger every year," he said. "This is the first year in a long time that we are not facing the disruptions of a big deal, and frankly, it is nice not to have to worry about it."
Times have changed at Bank of America, the $633 billion-asset company created by a string of industry-shaping deals. In an interview at corporate headquarters here last week, Mr. Hance called the business it has built in the Sun Belt and on the West Coast "unmatchable." He said 2000 will be the year when the dust begins to settle, the company steps away from mergers, and the public gets a better picture of Bank of America.
"I see us sitting in the ideal position," he said. "We are particularly strong and particularly big, but we are not very mature, so we have opportunities to grow. It's a nice way to be."
Integration work remains to be done on the 1998 merger of NationsBank and BankAmerica. The conversion of back-office computer systems in California has been put off until 2001, but the combined company's new brand and products will appear in the branches out West this year.
Mr. Hance said the bulk of the resources that in past years went to integration are now focused on customer service. Boosting training and minimizing turn-over in the branches are the main priorities.
"The public has gone through a lot of change, and I doubt you could find anyone whose bank has not been impacted in the past five years," he said. "The more we can do now to add stability to our customer base, the better we will be."
He said these efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Bank of America historically has been the target of competitors that would try to pick off customers displaced in the big mergers; now it is gaining runoff business from others' recent deals in California and St. Louis, Mr. Hance said.
It is also busy retooling its product offerings, trying to concentrate on high-return segments while reducing risk. In the past year the company has restructured its asset management business and shed some international risk. It has also boosted its global foreign exchange, treasury services, and underwriting operations.
"We are looking at our businesses, trying to make them more productive, and to make them more responsive to our customers," Mr. Hance said. "We are constantly refining our business model."
John B. Moore Jr., an analyst at Wachovia Securities in Charlotte, said it is important for Bank of America to keep adding to its product menu. With the top 10 banking companies now controlling 36% of the nation's assets, it is becoming harder to acquire earnings and more important to generate them.
"The direction they have to be going is product expansion, and they know that," he said. "They are in great markets, but they are going to keep having to find new revenue sources."
One business that Bank of America has left, at least for now, is acquisitions. Though some industry experts have speculated that the company would like to establish a truly nationwide footprint by expanding its retail presence into the Rust Belt and New England, Mr. Hance said that is not a priority.
"We were never hung up on territory," he said, "and we are not focused on looking at places on the map where we are not. So far, we have felt that paying a big premium to move further is not a good use of our resources."