Chicago's "bank for business" is going out of business.
American National Bank and Trust Co. of Chicago, a unit of First Chicago NBD Corp., is expected to lose its name-and its charter-when its parent is acquired by Banc One Corp. this year.
The loss is seen as a particularly sad one for Chicago's midsize businesses, which have long looked to American National for sophisticated products and individual attention.
"It's very sad to see the end of that franchise," said James A. Hubbard, a senior executive vice president of Old Kent Financial Corp. who spent 15 years at American National. "It's very sad to see that name go."
Known as "the bank for business," American National boasts 3,000 main banking relationships and commands 24% of the market-twice the share of its closest competitor. It has created a niche for itself with warm-hearted television commercials and well-appointed branches.
But those features are expected to fall by the wayside when the new Banc One folds American National into its national operations sometime next year. Banc One and First Chicago officials say a subsidiary for business banking is no longer needed and the new company will strive for a unified brand identity.
"We want to be one of the top brands in the country of any kind and certainly the top brand for financial services," said Banc One spokesman John Russell. "You can't do that by splitting names."
Taking their cue from national retail chains, many large banking companies have unified their brands. First Bank System of Minneapolis changed its name to U.S. Bancorp after buying the Portland, Ore., company last year, and Norwest Corp., First Bank's longtime Minneapolis rival, will give up its moniker when it buys Wells Fargo & Co. this year.
Sometimes merging banks have to give up more than one name in order to unify their brand. Merger partners BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp., for example, will eventually have to decide whether they want to keep intact BankAmerica's Seafirst unit in Seattle.
"To the extent you want to be all things to all people, a company has to make a decision on brand equity," said R. Jay Tejera, an analyst at Dain Rauscher, Minneapolis. "I'm sure that has hurt in isolated instances in certain markets."
When First Chicago bought American National in 1984, it kept the name, identity, and business intact. And John Rau, a longtime Chicago banker who is now chief executive officer of Chicago Title Corp., said First Chicago had little choice, since it was known at the time as a large corporate and consumer bank.
American National's good name in the Chicago business community "was the value," Mr. Rau said. By retaining it, First Chicago was "telling people this part of the organization is going to be devoted to you guys."
Robert C. King, principal of Chicago real estate developer Carroll Properties Inc. and a 10-year American National customer, said he's been assured by his bankers that there will be no change in his service. "I was told the organizational name may change but the faces will remain the same," Mr. King said. "If that's the truth, I don't see anything changing."
Still, he said, he's a little sentimental about the name: "I hate to see it go. I would have loved for them to retain the name. American National sounds more national than Banc One."