A chill between NationsBank Corp. and Texas' top banking regulator has begun to thaw.
The Charlotte, N.C., banking company has sent a letter to the state banking commissioner, Catherine A. Ghiglieri, pledging to increase small- business lending and other community-based activities in Texas after it completes the planned merger with BankAmerica Corp.
After receiving the letter, Ms. Ghiglieri told the Federal Reserve Board that she had no objections to the megamerger.
"A lot of things they said they would do would be very helpful to the state," Ms. Ghiglieri said. "I see it as the start of a more positive relationship between people in Texas and NationsBank."
Ms. Ghiglieri had been openly critical of how the merger of the two in- state operations would affect competition and community reinvestment. She warned that the two banks would break through the state's legal cap of 20% of deposits.
The commissioner has long had a contentious relationship with NationsBank, a company she says has a reputation for being "arrogant and in your face." She recently lost two lawsuits that sought to halt the company's efforts to consolidate charters outside Texas.
But now the warmer relationship with Ms. Ghiglieri could help NationsBank convince federal regulators that it should not have to divest any deposits in Texas. NationsBank is arguing that it would not exceed the 20% cap if certain intercompany deposits were excluded from the calculation.
"It appears they are just trying to quiet a squeaky wheel," said Kenneth H. Thomas, a Miami-based banking consultant and critic of banks' Community Reinvestment Act compliance efforts.
In the July 17 letter to Ms. Ghiglieri, NationsBank said its 1999 small- business lending in Texas would exceed the 1998 level by 5%.
It also pledged to step up its use of minority- and women-owned suppliers by 10%; expand a freeze on account fees; open a community development lending office in Dallas this year; and continue to operate and "likely expand" regional operations centers in Dallas and Houston.
NationsBank spokeswoman Pam S. McQuitty said the pledges are not "a signed agreement," and represented only "business goals."
"This was really to reassure them of our ongoing commitment to the state of Texas," she said.
Still, the pledges are specific and exceed in detail those made in Florida when NationsBank bought that state's biggest bank, Barnett Banks Inc., earlier this year.
When combined, NationsBank and BankAmerica would stretch coast to coast and have about $570 billion of assets. But their retail operations overlap only in Texas and New Mexico.
To allay antitrust concerns, the companies have announced plans to sell $350 million of deposits in New Mexico.
In March, the Supreme Court refused to hear Ms. Ghiglieri's argument against a plan by NationsBank to branch in Texas via an operation in New Mexico. And in May, a federal judge in Dallas ruled against her attempt to block NationsBank from consolidating its Texas charter into its holding company charter in Charlotte.