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US banks dare to cross cultures

BankAmerica, Bankers Trust and NationsBank, each bought a specialist West Coast equity house last year. Integration proceeds apace with the predicted clash of cultures. Cross-selling of products is a controversial issue as are compensation systems. Even office environments are a total contrast. Says one investment banker: "Nothing has really changed here. That's the way people like it." It may be 10 years before we can judge these mergers' success or failure. By Michelle Celarier.


Hungry ING looks for its next meal

A jumble of incentives

When investment bankers at San Francisco-based high-tech boutique Robertson Stephens began to receive regular e-mail messages about business developments at their new parent, BankAmerica, they feared the worst: "It was an indication that big brother had come," says a Robertson Stephens source. It wasn't that the e-mails were directives on anything substantial, he says: "The news was just irrelevant. It didn't add any value."

Downstairs, in the corridors of the much larger financial institution, the commercial bankers at BankAmerica were likewise annoyed by their new colleagues. "It's typical for them to underestimate the value that a commercial banker can bring to the business; the assumption is that he's not as sophisticated," says a former commercial banker at BankAmerica. This banker left soon after the merger, when a series of meetings between the commercial and investment bankers convinced him the integration of these two disparate cultures would be difficult to achieve.

Unlikely marriages

Out of a dozen mergers between US banks and securities firms last year that were prompted by the relaxation of Glass-Steagall rules separating the two businesses, none illustrates the clash of cultures more sharply than the $540 million all-cash BankAmerica-Robertson Stephens deal.

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