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Bank mergers - Lessons of McColl's long march

Is there a North Carolina-style dynamo waiting to whir into action in some unconsidered part of Europe? Or is the coast-to-coast merger triumph of what was once NationsBank and has now taken on Bank of America branding something that can't be replicated outside the US? Certainly, things are going to go differently in the EU, but bank experts reckon there's a lot to be learnt from US merger mania. The views of the new Bank of America's James Hance and Frank Gentry, and of others eyeing Europe, are sifted by James Smalhout

   

Hugh McColl






American bank merger supremo Hugh McColl, a former marine, spent the better part of his career briskly marching his institution from the backwater that once was Charlotte to the Pacific coast. The resulting colossus straddles most of the high-growth regions, thanks to spectacular M&A coups. McColl crowned his career with a stunning achievement: the 1998 link-up with San Francisco's Bank of America.

McColl compared running NationsBank to driving a racing car at 100 miles per hour and changing tyres without stopping. "You can't stop running what you've got while you're trying to retool for the next millennium," says Frank Gentry, one of McColl's longtime lieutenants and an executive vice-president at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank.

That was a tricky manoeuvre, but McColl handled it with skill. His bank - now known as Bank of America - tops the heap, with more deposits than any other US bank. And it's part of the country's second-largest financial services firm, outranked only by Citigroup.

Times have changed and McColl's chief lieutenants are no longer planning major bank mergers.