Banking on NationsBank

February 28, 1993

As barriers to interstate banking fell in the '80s, man Marylanders expected that their largest financial institution would become one of the dominant regional banks in the mid-Atlantic states. But a lot of conflicting forces were let loose in those free-wheeling years, and Maryland National Bank fell victim to some of them. No longer a regional player -- not even the overwhelming force it once was in Maryland -- it will soon be taken over by a true giant, the North Carolina-based NationsBank.

Is this an occasion for mourning? In some respects, the answer is clearly yes. But in others, there is reason for hope that the newcomers will become constructive corporate citizens as well as an economic stimulus with far deeper pockets than Maryland National ever had.

The loss of another major corporate headquarters here is a serious matter. There is a lot more than symbolism or local pride involved. Large companies often provide the civic-minded leaders whose talents nourish many cultural, social and business-related community organizations. They are also heavy contributors to many of the institutions which one way or another enrich the Baltimore area. Maryland National was a leader both in providing talent and contributing large sums to this community's institutions.

So the question is whether NationsBank will fill the void left by its absorption of Maryland National later this year. Its officials say it will. Skeptics will respond that only institutions whose top executives have roots here really plunge into local activities. NationsBank officials have sought to allay those concerns. But some of the executive slots that provide community leaders will probably move to corporate headquarters, and others will be filled by NationsBank people from elsewhere. We keep our fingers crossed.

Just as vital will be NationsBank's role in the local economy. In the last couple of years Maryland National was too stressed by its previous misjudgments to lend as heavily as it had in the past. If it wants to, NationsBank, fourth largest in the country with assets nearly 10 times as great as MNC, could inject billions in financing into the state's economy. Its record in new territories elsewhere is mixed, especially when it comes to small-business and minority customers it inherited.

Aware of these criticisms, NationsBank officials moved well before the final MNC takeover decision to reassure local interests they will be good corporate citizens in every way. They already have a small presence here through acquisition of Sovran Bank and a few thrifts. One question is whether the Maryland bank branches will continue to be run out of Washington, which will be the smaller part of the operation once the merger is accomplished. If NationsBank puts its resources ,, where its words are, it could be a welcome addition to this community.

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