By Barker-Benfield, Simon
The Florida Times Union
Bank mergers are happening so rapidly that customers may want to
hold off on ordering new checks.
In our own back yard, Jacksonville-based American National
Bank, a small community bank, is being bought by SouthTrust Bank,
a medium-sized regional bank based in Birmingham, Ala.
Meanwhile, the green-and-white signs of another Jacksonville
bank, Barnett, will start coming down in October.
They will be replaced by NationsBank's red, white and blue
signs, which will eventually be replaced by signage for
BankAmerica Corp., which is merging with Nationsbank to create a
gargantuan coast-to-coast bank.
Outside of Florida, First Union is in the middle of absorbing
CoreStates Financial Corp., a big Philadelphia-based banking
company, BancOne is getting larger in the Midwest, and in
California folks are getting used to the idea of
Faced with banking options from gigantic national banks to
community banks to credit unions, consumers now have a dizzying
array of choices.
Take, for instance, Didier Busnot.
He's a professional chef by training. He's also the owner of a
dramatic moustache, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and his own
business, The Seafood Gourmet, on San Jose Boulevard. The store
sells premium seafood and offers a daily carry-out soup special.
Busnot and his wife have a personal account at First Union
National Bank. At NationsBank, he has a business checking account
and a commercial loan.
The Busnot home mortgage is with Norwest, a huge mortgage
lender. He has an investment-management account with Cigna.
"I don't believe in putting all my eggs in one basket," he said.
Busnot's store competes with big supermarkets, and when he
talks about his business, he sounds oddly like a banker talking
about the virtues of his bank.
"They'll have somewhat similar products, but they certainly
won't come even close to what I have," he said.
He is precisely the kind of customer who drives bankers to
distraction, because he has plenty of options and has split his
banking business between different vendors.
Busnot came to Jacksonville as a chef to help open the Omni
Jacksonville Hotel in 1987 and hooked up with First Union because
it was convenient -- and it still is for the couple's personal
And after the computer systems of Barnett and NationsBank are
physically combined in October, Busnot plans to keep his business
He can expect competing bankers with briefcases full of
products to come knocking on his door, and he says he has an open
"There might be a gain, but somebody has got to present it,"
While many consumers don't have quite as many options to sort
through as Busnot, even something as simple as selecting what
bank to open a checking account with can be daunting.
Is it best to go with the big banks, or are consumers better
off staying with small, community banks?
Ultimately, according to the experts, it depends on the needs of
Want convenience? Then a mega-bank might be the best choice,
but consumers are going to pay more money for that convenience
and get less personal service, says Ken Thomas, a Miami-based
consumer activist and bank industry analyst.
For loans, Thomas tries to avoid banks altogether. He used the
Internet to find his last low-cost mortgage.
Like Busnot, he splits his business between banks.
Thomas has a checking account at the small Commercial Bank of
Miami because he likes knowing he can talk to the president if he
has a problem. …