Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More worry that BofA may leave the Queen City

It was alluded to before that with the loss of Ken Lewis as CEO, Charlotte-based Bank of America may just pick up and leave in the not-so-distant future. The Charlotte Observer today has a more in-depth look at how this concern is being viewed in Charlotte.

"Some bank insiders worry that the new commander might be less committed to keeping the base here. They fear that the corporate offices could be uprooted to New York or Boston or another city, perhaps because the new CEO wants to make a dramatic statement of change - or because the person simply doesn't want to live here," says the paper.

"Charlotte and state leaders say they're determined to keep the hometown bank in its hometown, especially after losing Wachovia's headquarters last year. Gov. Bev Perdue has been talking with bank officials, shareholders and community leaders about the bank's future since Lewis announced two weeks ago that he plans to retire by year's end, Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said."

According to the Observer, BofA employs some 15,000 people in Charlotte, not counting a number of smaller businesses. The bank is, in short, "the sole reason that Charlotte can still claim to be the country's No. 2 banking center, a title that has defined it for years."

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat and member of the House Financial Services Committee, said he hasn't heard anything about Bank of America leaving beyond the concerns of local city leaders - worries he attributed to insecurities from the Queen City.

He said the concerns might say more about Charlotte than about Bank of America.

"It's a reflection of how we sometimes view ourselves as a city - the poor little Southern victim," he said. "We forget the advantages Charlotte has. ... We just have to get over the victim mentality."

For most of this decade, Charlotte has worried that the bank would move to New York, the home to most of its big-bank peers. In 1998, the concern was over a switch to the West Coast, when the bank - then called NationsBank - bought BankAmerica in San Francisco.


Some experts said that a new Bank of America CEO might want to move the headquarters to make a statement - perhaps to signal that the bank is shutting the door on a troubled year and a half. Or the new leader might want to signal that the bank is not just a consumer bank, but a bona fide Wall Street firm, especially after its Jan. 1 purchase of Merrill Lynch.


On Tuesday night, The Wall Street Journal reported that the bank had hired search firm Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. to assist in the CEO search - which could be a signal that the new leader is more likely to come from outside the bank.

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