NationsBank Corp. and BankAmerica Corp. unveiled a record $350 billion Community Reinvestment Act pledge Wednesday.
The commitment, to be funded over 10 years, eclipses all public pledges combined through the end of 1997, the first 20 years the community reinvestment law was in effect.
The total includes a $140 billion pledge announced by BankAmerica last year; $160 billion that NationsBank had expected to plow into communities over the next 10 years but had not declared publicly; plus a further $50 billion.
NationsBank and BankAmerica, which agreed April 13 to merge, said they were determined to set the pace in community reinvestment.
"As we create America's bank, our opportunity and our responsibility to make a difference in our communities increases," said Hugh L. McColl Jr., chief executive officer of NationsBank and CEO-designate of the new BankAmerica. "This $350 billion commitment sets us apart as the clear leader in lending to communities and small businesses."
Reaction to the mammoth pledge was mixed.
Patrick Woodall, a policy analyst at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said the pledge shines in comparison with the one announced May 4 by Citicorp and Travelers Group. Those companies, which announced plans April 6 to merge under the banner Citigroup, have earmarked $115 billion for community reinvestment.
The new BankAmerica's pledge of annual CRA lending equals 6% of assets compared to 2% for Citigroup, Mr. Woodall said. "This has raised the bar and says this wave of mergers cannot be done without real commitments to local communities."
But John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, complained that the $350 billion was thin on specifics.
"You can include anything and everything in the commitment, but what gets us excited is when there is a lot of detail about how local organizations will work with the lender to meet explicit credit needs," he said.
"There are not the detailed commitments where communities can see how the dollars will hit the street," agreed Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Committee, who met with Mr. McColl and BankAmerica CEO David Coulter for two hours last week. "We have no choice but to protest the deal."
Catherine P. Bessant, NationsBank's president of community reinvestment, said critics are jumping the gun. "This is just the first step," she said. "We will work with community groups to target this on a neighborhood-by- neighborhood basis."
The package includes:
$180 billion for small businesses, including conventional loans and letters of credit of $1 million or less, government-guaranteed small business loans, and direct investments in minority-owned businesses.
$115 billion for affordable housing, including mortgages to low- and moderate-income borrowers, pre-development construction financing of multifamily housing, and equity investments in low-income housing redevelopment.
$30 billion in consumer lending, including home-improvement loans to low-income borrowers and car loans to those earning less than 80% of the median income. Credit card lending will not count.
$25 billion in economic development assistance, including loans to community development financial institutions and nonprofit redevelopment organizations, and investments in rural and urban economic development loans.
Donald A. Mullane, BankAmerica's executive vice president for corporate community development, said the Small Business Administration only guarantees about $12 billion in credit a year. "Collectively, this is an incredible goal," he said. "Small business has won today."
The merger partners said the new BankAmerica would report annually on its progress and would meet with national and local reinvestment groups to discuss the results. Regulators will analyze the CRA plan in reviewing the merger proposal, which would create a $572 billion-asset company with branches in 22 states.
Separately, NationsBank and BankAmerica said in a filing with the Federal Reserve Board that no significant competitive issues would arise from their merger. They outlined plans to divest about $350 million of deposits in New Mexico, where they have some overlap, Bloomberg News reported. The filing, dated May 15, was made public Wednesday.