Two major West Coast bank groups on Friday endorsed the merger of NationsBank Corp. and BankAmerica Corp., but the California Independent Bankers Association said it opposed the $60 billion deal.
Testifying at a Federal Reserve hearing, Larry D. Kurmel, executive director of the California Bankers Association, and Bruce A. Koppe, executive vice president of the Washington Bankers Association, said the strong community reinvestment records of the two banks warrant approval.
"We do not see the merger of Bank of America and NationsBank as a threat," Mr. Koppe said. "Past performance is a reliable predictor of what will happen in the future."
Earlier in the hearing, activists criticized the banks for not specifying how they will divide their $350 billion Community Reinvestment Act pledge among the thousands of neighborhoods where they operate.
Mr. Kurmel, however, defended the banks, saying earmarking large sums for specific communities could hurt smaller banks that compete in those markets. "I would urge caution at playing with $350 billion," he said. He also dismissed concerns that community banks could not compete with such a behemoth. "There is more of a threat to community banks from unrestrained expansion of tax-exempt credit unions," he said.
But Craig Collette, a director at the California Independent Bankers and president of Marathon National Bank, Los Angeles, said the deal would decrease competition and hurt the economy. "The trend toward megamergers- and this includes this merger-is not healthy for Main Street where I come from. It is very risky for Wall Street, and it is bad for the Federal Reserve and other regulators who will have to bail out these mega-giants when they are mismanaged."
More than 200 people testified during the two days of hearings on the deal, which would create the first coast-to-coast bank, with 5,000 branches and 15,000 ATMs. The banks expect to close the deal Oct. 1.
Though the comment period on the merger closed Thursday, those who testified or submitted comment letters on the deal have until July 17 to send in supplemental comments.
Conrad Hewitt, whose tenure as superintendent of the California State Department of Financial Institutions expired June 30, testified that the deal is legal and would provide more products and services to consumers.
Gail Cincotta, chairwoman of the National Training and Information Center in Chicago, testified late Thursday that the banks are not making a large enough CRA pledge. "What they want to do in the next 10 years is less than what they have done in the last 10 years," she said. "Deny them, deny them, deny them."