Shareholders of BankBoston Corp. and Fleet Financial Group approved a merger of the archrivals on Wednesday.

Fleet Boston Corp., as the combined company would be known, would be the eighth-largest U.S. bank, with 20 million customers.

Boston-based Fleet -- New England's biggest bank -- has about $104 billion of assets, 1,200 branches, and the Quick & Reilly Inc. discount brokerage. BankBoston, the nation's oldest commercial bank, has about $74 billion of assets and the Robertson Stephens investment bank.

More than 78% of outstanding BankBoston shares were voted in favor of the takeover. A 66.7% vote was required. Ninety-five percent of the votes that were cast were in favor of the merger.

About 79% of outstanding Fleet shares were voted in favor of the takeover. Ninety-eight percent of the votes that were cast were in favor of the merger.

The deal still requires regulatory approval.

The merged company is expected to sell branches to comply with antitrust restrictions. The Federal Reserve and the Justice Department must review the proposed merger for its impact on competition and lending to low-income communities, and state officials also must approve the deal.

Fleet and BankBoston said they plan to sell 290 branches, with about $12.5 billion of deposits, to comply with antitrust restrictions.

Bank executives said they have received dozens of bids and expect to have an agreement to sell the branches before regulators act on the merger application.

At a public hearing last month, community activists criticized what they called Fleet's poor history of postmerger lending in minority communities. Fleet executives defended their record, saying the company is committed to all areas where it provides banking services. -- Bloomberg News

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