Frayed Family Ties

Bank of America Corp.'s growing list of critics include the granddaughter of the executive who founded one of the company's predecessors.Virginia Hammerness, whose grandfather founded Bank of Italy in San Francisco in 1904, said she is upset with B of A's management team and its controversial acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.

"This is not the company that my grandfather founded," Ms. Hammerness, 76, told American Banker on Wednesday. "It's a far cry from it, and it is unfortunate that they kept the Bank of America name."

On Monday, Ms. Hammerness, who lives in San Jose, had said in a television interview with a CBS affiliate in California that B of A is in "totally repulsive" condition and that its managers, led by Ken Lewis, the Charlotte company's chairman and chief executive officer, are "idiots."

Two days later her tone had softened. "I have been told by friends to watch my words," she said.

Ms. Hammerness, who inherited stock in the company from her family, declined to disclose her stake.

She remains a B of A customer.

"I'm too lazy to move," she told American Banker.

Bank of America did not return an e-mail requesting comment. A.P. Giannini's Bank of Italy evolved into BankAmerica Corp., whose sale to NationsBank Corp. in 1998 created Bank of America.

(Big) Easy Quiz

BankUnited Financial Corp. of Coral Gables, Fla., does not have much to celebrate these days, but it is still getting into the Mardi Gras spirit.The $14 billion-asset company, which has been ordered to raise capital after stumbling heavily over subprime mortgages, is using its Web site to survey customers this week on how they prefer to mark the pre-Lent saturnalia.

Sixty-three percent said they like to celebrate Mardi Gras by visiting New Orleans in person, 16% said they like to toss beads from a balcony, 13% said they wear the Mardi Gras colors (purple, green, and gold) all day, and 9% said they like to bake a King Cake.

Melissa Gracey, a BankUnited spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the company has been running "fun little diversions" on the Web site for years and sees no reason to stop doing so.

Asked about BankUnited's future, she said, "From a customer's perspective, we're moving forward — their money is safe, our branches are open, and our staff is here for them."

All of BankUnited's branches are in Florida. Ms. Gracey would not comment on speculation that W.L. Ross & Co. LLC and Carlyle Group are interested in acquiring BankUnited.

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