The city of San Francisco may soon deliver a harsh message to BankAmerica Corp.: If you abandon us, we will abandon you.
Michael Yaki, a member of the city's board of supervisors, said in an interview late last week that he and other officials are mulling whether to shift millions of dollars of municipal accounts from BankAmerica to its hometown rival, Wells Fargo & Co.
"There's a buzz in San Francisco about moving their accounts to Wells Fargo because of its commitment to the city," said Mr. Yaki, who sits on the 11-member board that would have to approve such a switch.
BankAmerica's headquarters, which have been in San Francisco since 1904, would move to Charlotte, N.C., when it merges with NationsBank Corp. later this year. Wells Fargo, by contrast, plans to remain in the City by the Bay when it merges with Norwest Corp., Minneapolis.
A decision by San Francisco to yank its business from BankAmerica would have little financial impact on the post-merger bank, which would have $570 billion in assets. But the move would be a stark symbol of the dismay and abandonment that some locals feel about BankAmerica's decision to move its headquarters clear across the country.
Indeed, sentiments similar to Mr. Yaki's are likely to be repeated by local officials nationwide as more cities lose their last independent banking companies to out-of-state acquirers.
"The fact that BofA, which is such a part of local history, is leaving this city is momentous," said Richard D. Puntillo, a finance professor at the University of San Francisco.
BankAmerica spokesman Michael A. Zampa said he was "perplexed" at the suggestion that San Francisco would sever its ties to the bank.
"Our relationship with the city has been a long and fruitful one for both partners," Mr. Zampa said. "We're very disheartened by any suggestion that it cease."
The bank provides the city with checking, deposit processing, welfare check cashing, wire transfers, direct deposit, and other services, Mr. Zampa said.
The threat of severing ties to BankAmerica could be used as a bargaining chip to convince the merged institution to strengthen its commitment to communities in the area, Mr. Yaki said.
The accounts "haven't been moved yet," he said. "If BankAmerica were to make a serious substantive commitment to the city, we might be willing to keep them. It's an incentive."
At a hearing Thursday convened by the Association of Bay Area Governments, the planning and coordinating body for the nine counties and 100 cities in the San Francisco Bay area, Mr. Yaki and others aired concerns about BankAmerica's planned merger.
Association president Mary King praised BankAmerica's minority and low- income lending record, but said she was concerned about NationsBank's influence on the merged institution.
"Our grave concern is with the other bank, NationsBank ... the bank with which we are not familiar," said Ms. King, who is also an Alameda County supervisor. "The lending record of NationsBank in North Carolina will simply not pass muster in the Bay Area."
Last month, BankAmerica and NationsBank announced a $350 billion community investment pledge-the largest ever. But it came under fire at the hearing for not containing enough details about where and to whom the money will go.
"The $350 billion Community Reinvestment Act pledge is hollow because it is lacking in specifics," said John C. Gamboa, executive director of the Greenlining Institute. "Those loans could go to liquor stores or check cashers."
Another topic of concern at the hearing centered on job loss resulting from the deal, which is slated to close in the fourth quarter. Walnut Creek Councilwoman Gwen Regalia said she was worried about job cuts at BankAmerica technology headquarters in Concord, which borders her jurisdiction.
"They (BankAmerica) are downtown Concord on some level," Ms. Regalia said.
Steve Heitel, vice president of BankAmerica's east bay regional commercial banking group, said his bank has held two meetings with Concord officials to discuss the fate of the roughly 3,500 employees at the technology facility. While assuring Ms. Regalia that BankAmerica will "need every systems person we can possibly get" to help in the merger integration, he acknowledged that "not a lot of decisions have been made yet."