Fleet Financial Group Inc. can draw on solid experience in post-merger integration to bring Shawmut National Corp. into its operational fold, bank technology experts say.
After the $3.7 billion acquisition was announced last week, Fleet officials refused to discuss how the two companies' technology and operational components would be pulled together. They also gave no details about how much money they expect to save.
But industry observers are generally forecasting smooth sailing for the operating side of the transition that will turn Fleet from a $49 billion- asset northeastern superregional into, at $81 billion of assets, the nation's ninth-largest banking company.
Most experts assume that the lion's share of the $400 million that Fleet and Shawmut said they expect to save during the next 15 months would come from employee cutbacks. Fleet officials estimated that about $88 million of the total would come from closing branches, the consolidation of automated teller machine networks, and standardizing products.
But experts say Shawmut, in its systems and its technological direction, has more in common with Fleet than did any of the latter's other major acquirees. That would make for fewer philosophical and strategic debates and more leeway for cutbacks and closings.
Previous large-scale acquisitions - albeit not as big as Shawmut - such as New York State's Norstar Bank and the failed Bank of New England - have given Fleet executives a solid grounding in how to remove fat from the back office, observers say.
Consultants and analysts have rated the Fleet-Norstar consolidation alongside Wells Fargo & Co.'s acquisition of Crocker National Corp. in the 1980s as pioneering examples of mergers that enhanced shareholder value by swiftly wringing out redundancies.
"I'm sure they have it down to a guidebook," said Sally Pope Davis, an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co.
"Given Fleet's lengthy experience in consolidation, they can do this in a heartbeat," echoed Michon Schenck, a consultant with the Tower Group in Wellesley, Mass.
Ms. Schenck, who headed the management information systems group at Fleet until last November, said the merger partners have many common systems, including the same commercial loan system.
A principal remaining question is whether Fleet will close Shawmut's data processing center in Hartford, Conn., and move all of the combined companies' processing to its own principal site in Albany, N.Y.
"Mike Zucchini (Fleet's vice chairman) and Dave Sheppard (the chief information officer) have felt very strongly in the past about consolidating to one data center," Ms. Schenck said.
Mr. Zucchini, who built a reputation as one of the industry's top technology executives, was responsible for the widely acclaimed back-office conversions of both Norstar in 1988 and Bank of New England in 1991, before being promoted from chief information officer.
His post-merger responsibilities include overseeing financial services, fee-based businesses, and technology operations.
Mr. Sheppard, who took the CIO spot two years ago, has led Fleet in its much-ballyhooed reengineering effort, dubbed Fleet Focus, that was aimed at cutting costs and preparing for more acquisitions.
Emerging from the Shawmut union, Fleet may also present a more formidable face in the alternative delivery arena, both Ms. Schenck and Dennis Lynch, another former Fleet executive, pointed out.
The combined banks have more than 1,500 ATMs, said Mr. Lynch, chief information officer at Infinet Payment Services, operator of the NYCE and Yankee 24 networks. Both Fleet and Shawmut are equity owners of Infinet and have substantial debit card portfolios, he added.
But beyond those means of traditional remote banking, both banks have their sights set on further inroads in electronic services. Shawmut signed a deal last month to ally itself with AT&T Co. to offer banking services via interactive television.