Texan Warring with NCNB Cries Foul over Phone Calls

As a Texas businessman has learned, organizing a consumer boycott of NCNB Corp. can be exasperating and expensive.

After Rogers Dennis installed a toll-free phone line last year to enlist supporters, he was bombarded with some 600 calls from NCNB offices - calls that cost him about $180, he said in a recent interview. Mr. Dennis suspended the number after 45 days.

"I was very surprised they would actually stoop to something in that manner," said Mr. Dennis, whose interference complaint against NCNB was first reported last week by the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina.

But NCNB denies any malice toward Mr. Dennis or his group, Consumers for Ethical Financial Institutions. "There was no organized effort to disrupt that group or tie up their phone lines or anything of that nature," said spokesman Ellison Clary in Charlotte, who characterized the calls from NCNB offices as employee curiosity.

"We at NCNB don't think it's surprising that our own people would have an interest in what was being said about NCNB on a toll-free number," he added.

Mr. Dennis' consumer group sports a long name but a short list of organizers - five people, including himself, his wife, and his 33-year-old daughter, Robin, who functions as president and chief publicist.

Mr. Dennis said he formed the group to protest NCNB's alleged tendency to call in performing loans and its slowness to reinvest Texas deposits within the state. Since NCNB acquired the failed First Republic-Bank Corp. in 1988, it has been under fire from consumer advocates in Texas for failing to make enough in-state loans.

Personal Side to Boycott

Mr. Dennis, 65, is a self-employed businessman from Abilene who sells communications equipment. He concedes a personal interest in the NCNB matter: litigation with NCNB over a $136,000 loan he received from a bank that went bust.

In 1989, the loan was turned over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. after NCNB acquired the other bank. NCNB froze Mr. Dennis' bank accounts. Mr. Dennis claims his loan was not in default at that time, but he subsequently stopped payments.

Last October, Mr. Dennis' group put up billboards in Waco under the name "Texans for Fair Banking," listing the toll-free number. A recorded message that criticized NCNB greeted callers and asked for their addresses.

Mr. Dennis said he wanted a mailing list to solicit donations and to sell bumper stickers and T-shirts for an NCNB boycott.

But he noticed a large number of hang-up calls, costing an average of 30 cents each. By running the phone records through a personal computer, Mr. Dennis concluded that 591 of the hang-ups originated from NCNB offices.

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