Only a month after scoring an interstate banking victory in North Carolina, NationsBank Corp. has extended the battle-front to Florida, Georgia, and Virginia.
The Charlotte-based bank company, the nation's fifth largest, is pushing for piecemeal dissolution of the so-called Southeast compact - a series of reciprocal banking agreements among nine states that limits acquisitions by outsiders.
The pacts, put together in the mid-1980s, were originally aimed at protecting the regional banks from then-threatening banks in New York City. But the compact contains an "80-20" rule that says 80% of deposits must remain in the Southeast - a stricture that has now become limiting to NationsBank and some of its regional brethren with national ambitions for growth.
May Hinder Further Expansion
An interstate banking law engineered by NationsBank passed the North Carolina legislature on June 16 by a margin of 84 to 12. It will allow full interstate banking in the state by July 1, 1996.
But NationsBank also has operations in Georgia, Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina - states where the compact is still in force. Laws on their books could hinder an effort by the company to branch into, say, California, where company officials are known to be searching.
William T. Graham, the commissioner of banks in North Carolina, said there was little organized opposition to the bill. But the effort may encounter more resistance in Georgia and Florida, where banking laws have been more restrictive and community banking groups are more politically active.
NationsBank has begun talking with bank trade association groups in Florida, Georgia, and Virginia about opening those states to full nationwide interstate banking.
The company "will be working with other banks," said Ellison Clary, a NationsBank spokesman. "Now we have banks in a position to compete nationwide outside the compact and they need a chance to do so.
"The compact served well, but its time has passed," added Mr. Graham, the North Carolina bank commissioner.
Michael M. Fields, NationsBank's regional executive for northern Florida, is trying to influence bankers and legislators in the state to introduce an interstate bill in the next legislative session beginning in January, banking sources in Florida said.
|A Very Clear Interest'
Mr. Fields, who is based in Tallahassee, confirmed that his company has "a very clear interest" in such legislation. But timing and strategy are not yet fixed, he added..
An executive committee of the Florida Bankers Association plans to discuss interstate banking on Sept. 9 and recommend a position for the association's full membership, according to executive director John Milstead. He said NationsBank has informed him that an interstate proposal would "likely be very similar" to the North Carolina statute.
James R. Lientz Jr., president of NationsBank of Georgia, briefed bankers in his state two weeks ago on "the probability" of introducing a similar bill being introduced in the state Legislature in January, said J. Joseph Brannen, president of the Georgia Bankers Association.
"We have not been asked to take a position at this point," Mr. Brannen said.
Mr. Lientz could not be reached for comment Friday.
Looking for Consensus
The Virginia Bankers Association, meanwhile, plans to put together atask force to study the interstate banking issue, with hopes that its full board can reach a decision by September, according to vice president Bruce Whitehurst.
|The first approach will be to look for consensus," Mr. Whitehurst said.
In Florida, at least, some original proponents of the Southeast compact support its demise. "It was always designed as a way station so that banks in the South would have the opportunity to do their own growing," said John Edward Smith, a Miami attorney who helped draft Florida's reciprocal banking law in 1984. "Things have changed dramatically over the years."
In addition to the interstate banking bill, North Carolina passed an interstate branching bill last month that allows Tarheel State banks to branch into any other state with similar legislation.
The effect of this legislation, which becomes Oct. 1, is likely to be more limited than interstate banking since only New York has similar legislation. Also, NationsBank is not encouraging other states to emulate North Carolina's branching law.