Armed with statistics about the increased buying power of African- Americans, NationsBank Corp. is starting a new business group aimed at capturing those dollars.

Though the Charlotte, N.C., banking company has been making a special effort to promote its brand to the black community for three years, the new unit will include a group of salespeople dedicated to the market.

The new strategy coincides with the merger of NationsBank with BankAmerica Corp., which is scheduled to close Sept. 30.

Anthony T. Grant, NationsBank's chairman of asset quality review, is to take over the new business unit Oct. 1. Joseph Vaez, director of credit examination for BankAmerica, is to assume Mr. Grant's old post after the merger.

"We're moving from a marketing focus to a line and banking group focus," Mr. Grant said in an interview. "There are many more African-Americans in the professional ranks and many more African-American companies that are growing and expanding. It is phenomenal growth in a market that perhaps heretofore has not been covered. We feel we're capturing the momentum."

Mr. Grant said NationsBank's marketing efforts to the African-American community had brought in about $620 million of new business in the last three years. Between the merger and the expanded sales effort, the company expects to boost that amount, he said.

The new group will focus on courting people with annual incomes of more than $75,000, as well as business owners and business managers, Mr. Grant said. The group will sell directly and through referrals a variety of products and services, including wealth management, lines of credit, letters of credit, and corporate finance.

Jeffrey M. Humphreys, director of economic forecasting at the University of Georgia and author of a recent report on African-American buying power, said NationsBank is one of many corporations recognizing the value of cultivating African-American business. His study estimated that black buying power nationwide will have jumped 73% from 1990 to 1999, compared with an increase of 57% for consumers in general.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said Mr. Humphreys. "Corporate America is paying attention."

In another move aimed at boosting its profile in the African-American community, NationsBank recently appointed its first African-American market presidents: Ed Dolby for the Carolinas banking group and James Jackson for the Virginia banking group.

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