Bank of America to Forgo Calif. Conversion

Article excerpt

It has been four years since NationsBank Corp. bought the old BankAmerica, merging product lines and moving headquarters. One function will probably not be integrated, however: the computer system that runs the 900-branch California network.

After repeatedly postponing conversion of the technology that underlies the state's operations to what Bank of America Corp. calls its Model Banking platform, the Charlotte-based company has decided to abandon the plan and just leave well enough alone.

"At this point we have no imminent plans to convert the California system," Liam McGee, the president of Bank of America California and of the entire company's consumer banking business line, said last week.

The decision is in stark contrast to moves by other banks toward a common operating system. Most notably, Bank One Corp. is almost finished with its One Bank project, with the final major conversion -- Illinois -- expected in November. And U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis said Wednesday that it had completed the full-system conversion of the former Firstar Corp., which purchased it in 2001.

Answering reporters' questions after a speech at the Commonwealth Club here last week, Mr. McGee said Bank of America determined that, given the size of the California system and the number of customers, a conversion was not worth the risk of a glitch.

"Do we want to go through what some of our noble competitors have gone through and be dug out of a hole for a couple of years?" he asked.

Model Banking is the system NationsBank used in integrating numerous acquisitions, including the BankAmerica deal. States with Bank of America branches are now on the platform, with the exceptions of California, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The company is still mulling what to do in the other three states.

The annals of California banking are shot through with stories of botched systems conversions that led to customer dissatisfaction and mass defections.

By choosing not to make the change, Bank of America also seems to have avoided the kind of customer runoff that followed the infamous 1996 merger of Wells Fargo & Co. and First Interstate Bancorp. That conversion caused so many problems that it is still fresh in the minds of many California bankers.

By 2000 Bank of America California had introduced the same brand and product set of the company nationwide. …