NationsBank Corp. is evaluating sites in Florida for a national direct sales center similar to one it opened last year in Richmond, Va.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based banking company said it saw such strong results at its Richmond center in 1997 that it wants to set up a second facility quickly.

NationsBank officials said they see Florida, with its strong economic growth and high-income population, as a logical location. Another factor that worked in favor of Florida is that NationsBank is slated to become the largest bank there when it completes its acquisition of Jacksonville-based Barnett Banks Inc. on Friday.

Randy C. Swift, head of NationsBank's direct sales center in Richmond, said sales - particularly those tied to a campaign in November and December aimed at selling home equity loans in Texas-had exceeded projections. "There is a lot of work we need to do, but we have had a fantastic year," he said. However, Mr. Swift would not reveal sales figures.

NationsBank, which has $242 billion of assets, is still deciding where in Florida to put a direct sales center. But officials said it will either be in Tampa, Jacksonville, or Miami, cities where Barnett operates its three call centers. The call centers have excess space where a sales center could be housed, officials said. NationsBank may build additional space, if needed.

The new sales center is expected to begin operations in the first half of the year. It has not been decided, however, how many people may be hired to staff it, said John Pataky, Barnett's director of telebanking services.

NationsBank has said in recent weeks that it will add at least 200 people to Florida call center operations after the merger with Barnett. Sales center staff members are included in that number, said Mr. Pataky, who will oversee all Florida telebanking operations as well as an on-line banking center in Dallas.

The sales center concept will be a departure of sorts from Barnett's current strategy, in which product sales were primarily handled by branch employees and by people working in customer service call centers. In all, Barnett has about 60 sales agents working the phones, said Mr. Pataky. NationsBank has 200 agents at its Richmond center.

Though Barnett introduced an aggressive cash incentive plan in 1997 for its sales people, its approach is far more conservative than NationsBank's. The Charlotte company often motivates its Richmond employees with offers of exotic cruises and new cars.

For example, NationsBank gave its top salesperson of September through November a 1997 Ford Probe as a reward for making 1,000 sales.

The Richmond sales center was opened in December 1996 but only became fully operational in April. Sales agents, who are largely drawn from nonbanking, commission-oriented sales jobs in other industries, handle inbound questions about products and services and place cold calls to prospects.

Barnett's sales operations has served it well, Mr. Swift said. "We're just going to try to add our value to it and meld the two cultures."

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