The recent spate of megamergers among U.S. financial institutions is creating global powerhouses that could hold their own against European banking giants.
In addition to increasing heft, these deals would link large domestic franchises to strong international networks, according to bankers and industry observers.
"Given U.S. trade and economic patterns, it's to be expected that U.S. banks want to strengthen their global presence," said Diane Glossman, an analyst at Lehman Brothers. "Domestic banks want to service their customers abroad."
For example, NationsBank Corp., which plans to merge with BankAmerica Corp., and Banc One Corp., which is buying First Chicago NBD Corp., would gain access to international markets they could not have gotten to otherwise.
One well-placed senior banker who declined to be identified said: "This fills a global gap for NationsBank and Banc One and a U.S. gap for First Chicago and BankAmerica. This creates tremendous global efficiencies."
Though a nonbank, the same benefits could apply to Travelers Group, which, through its planned merger with Citicorp and the bank's vast international network, could gain a foothold in emerging markets for an array of insurance and investment-banking services.
Of course, the partners in the three big deals announced in the past two weeks would also get the benefit of having new products and services to sell through their international pipelines.
For example, Citicorp, which is best known for its state-of-the-art worldwide consumer banking operations, would gain a valuable array of insurance and capital-markets-related products it could distribute through its extensive international network. The merger would create the world's largest financial institution, with assets of almost $700 billion.
BankAmerica's merger with NationsBank-the agreement was announced Monday-would create the world's fourth-largest bank with $572 billion in assets. And First Chicago's merger with Banc One would create the world's 36th-largest bank, with $230 billion.
Both NationsBank and Banc One stand to gain a lot from the planned mergers.
NationsBank has built only limited international operations, while Banc One, through its Dallas-based international banking subsidiary, is still building a network to handle export finance, cross-border payments and cash management.
In contrast, BankAmerica has a sizable network overseas, active in everything from retail banking to global funds transfer and syndicated lending.
"On the wholesale side, BankAmerica's vast global network will be available to NationsBank's corporate customers," said Michael J. Murray, president of BankAmerica's wholesale banking unit, on the day of the announcement.
Over the last few years BankAmerica has also made a major push to develop business in emerging markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia, where margins are higher.
"Together, we will be America's bank-at home and around the world," said Hugh L. McColl Jr., chief executive of NationsBank and chairman of the combined institution, during the New York press conference announcing the deal.
First Chicago's network, though smaller and focused mainly on corporate finance, is still significant.
But both Banc One and NationsBank bring something to the table almost as valuable as an international network: tens of thousands of middle-market corporate customers with a growing appetite for international banking services.
Linking those customers to the global networks and operations of First Chicago NBD and BankAmerica would give the two new entities additional business. That alone would enable them to earn higher profits than they could have separately.
"These banks complement each other geographically and product-wise," said the senior-level banker. "You have two strong global players coming together with two strong U.S. players."
"There's very little overlap," observed Lawrence Cohn, a banking analyst with Ryan, Beck & Co.
Analysts also said that integrating Citicorp's operations with Travelers' would be far more complex than combining operations in the other two mergers. And they added that there is more uncertainty about how Citicorp and Travelers would profit from merging.
About the only place the combined company would probably gain business is in emerging markets, Mr. Cohn said.
Analysts also cautioned that the merger between First Chicago and Banc One would probably have more limited international scope than the one involving BankAmerica and NationsBank.
First Chicago, they noted, has been gradually pruning its international business, while Banc One has shown no interest in developing its international operations beyond a limited array of trade finance and payments-related services.
"First Chicago's strategy is to maintain a presence in corporate business and global capital markets, but it will be pretty plain-vanilla sort of stuff," Mr. Cohn said.
"Banc One doesn't have a significant franchise in international business beyond trade finance, and I don't think that's going to change," he said.