For a few short weeks, the $9.9 billion purchase of H.F. Ahmanson & Co. by its Seattle-based rival, Washington Mutual Inc., had dealmakers breathless.

Announcing the purchase in mid-March, Mr. Killinger appeared to have Bank of America in his competitive sights. He said that with Ahmanson, Wamu has "the market share and position critical to be able to become the market leader." He said consumers were tired of the stingy personal service they get at big banks, and Washington Mutual's high-touch approach would help it beat competitors.

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