First Union cuts back in Baltimore

March 30, 1994|By David Conn | David Conn,Sun Staff Writer

First Union Corp., which came to Baltimore in small numbers last year but vowed to become a force in the market someday, this month decided to pare back both its personnel and physical presence in the area.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based banking company said yesterday that Ronald C. Fowler, president of the nine-branch Baltimore division, has been named to head a 22-branch operation for First Union in Bristol, Va., the company's new southwestern Virginia "hub," according to Hugh Long, president of First Union's Capital Area operations. Mr. Fowler's position in Baltimore won't be filled, he said.

Further, the two Baltimore-based managers of consumer and commercial banking -- Hal Finney and Tripp Shannon -- will run the local operations from Tysons Corner, Va., and Silver Spring, respectively.

And since First Union's lease in the Legg Mason tower is about to expire, the company has decided to give up that office space, including the ATM machine on the ground level.

Instead, the 15-person Baltimore staff will be split among office spacein Towson and Silver Spring, Mr. Long said. That space came from First Union's acquisition last year of the First American banks in Maryland, Washington and Virginia.

Despite the moves, "We are not retreating from the Baltimore market," Mr. Long said. "Our company and I view it as an attractive market for us to be in, to grow our bank and hopefully to acquire additional mass."

That's not the perception some industry members took from the moves, which were decided a few weeks ago and announced to business customers last week.

"I think it clearly sends a message that Baltimore is at a minimum not part of their strategic plan, that they have more and better business opportunities to use their resources outside of this area," said Stuart Greenberg, a private banking consultant in Baltimore.

First Union's deposit market share in Baltimore is less than 0.5 percent, according to a recent report by Danielson Associates Inc. of Rockville. Mr. Long said the company has no plans either to close branches or acquire any new ones.

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