Wheeling, Ill.-based Cole Taylor Bank said it has moved about half of its 15 small-business lenders to a downtown Chicago office to put them in closer touch with customers.

"That's where the action is," said Bruce Taylor, president and chief executive officer of the $1.8 billion-asset bank, whose headquarters is 25 miles northwest of Chicago. "This office will give us broader visibility."

The bankers will focus on accountants, attorneys, and medical professionals in the Loop, Chicago's downtown business district, Mr. Taylor said.

They will offer business loans, financial planning, trust and investment services, and personal banking for business owners, he added.

Cole Taylor's move into Chicago is a sign of the increased emphasis banks are putting on small business. Mr. Taylor said he intends to compete with First Chicago NBD Corp.'s American National Bank and Trust Co., Bank of Montreal's Harris Bankcorp, and LaSalle National Bank, a subsidiary of Amsterdam-based ABN Amro Holding.

Cole Taylor also moved its 10 middle-market bankers from a smaller downtown office to the new business banking office. The subsidiary of Taylor Capital Group now has six locations in the city and six in the suburbs.

Mr. Taylor said he expects the new office to generate $50 million of assets within several years.

Larry Richman, executive vice president of LaSalle National Bank, said the downtown office would help Cole Taylor improve its image.

"It's a good move on their part and a competitive threat to all the banks in the market," Mr. Richman said. "They will pick up market share but hopefully not from us."

Mr. Taylor said his bank expects to benefit from customers unhappy with some of the mergers pending in the Chicago area. First Chicago plans to merge with Banc One Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, in the fourth quarter, and Harris Bank's parent, Bank of Montreal, has agreed to combine with Royal Bank of Canada. No closing date has been set for that deal.

"With all the changes in our market, it opens up some opportunity for us," Mr. Taylor said.

Spokesmen at First Chicago and Harris Bank said their pending mergers would not lead to a loss of small-business customers in Chicago.

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