Staff Reporter

After years of frenzied mergers and acquisitions, the Los Angeles banking community is now dominated by three giants Bank of America, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo.

Here is a look at the resources each bank has mustered in the local market.

Bank of America

It's now the largest financial institution in Los Angeles, with 255 full-service branches, more than 13,000 employees and $28.8 billion in deposits.

It jumped to the top in 1992 when it bought Security Pacific, and then Bank of America itself was bought out last year by Nations Bank of Charlotte, N.C. and renamed Bank of America.

Because of the geographic separation of the two chains (BofA operates in the West while Nations primarily does business on the East Coast and in the Midwest) the merger did not involve any overlap between the two companies in Los Angeles. As a result, it has not led to a significant number of local layoffs or branch closures.

The top BofA executive in Los Angeles is Liam McGee, who serves as president of Southern California banking. In fact, Chairman Hugh McColl has referred to McGee as "the CEO of Southern California."

Bank of America has a long history in Southern California. For many years Attilio Henry Giannini, brother of bank founder A.P. Giannini, was based in L.A. to cater to the needs of Hollywood. In 1997, BofA was the third-largest lender to the entertainment industry, with $1.35 billion in loans.

BofA is currently the biggest source of Small Business Administration-guaranteed loans in L.A. County. However, the resignation last year of Donald A. Mullane, Los Angeles-based executive vice president for corporate community development and chairman of Bank of America's Community Development Bank, has raised questions about how much longer the banking giant will retain that title.

Washington Mutual

The Seattle-based thrift stormed into Los Angeles in 1997 when it beat out H.F. Ahmanson in a bitter takeover battle for Chatsworth-based Great Western. WaMu must have liked what it saw in L.A. because a year later it acquired Ahmanson, the parent of Home Savings of America, making the Seattle-based savings and loan the second-largest financial institution in the county.

Having arrived so recently, WaMu remains in a consolidation phase in Los Angeles. It has established its Southern California headquarters in Chatsworth, at the old headquarters campus of Great Western, while it tries to sell the Irwindale headquarters of H.F. Ahmanson.

Today, WaMu has 206 branches, but by the end of May, 40 will be closed as part of a consolidation effort. Following the Ahmanson merger, WaMu has about $24.3 billion in deposits and employs about 8,600 people in L.A. County. That workforce could decrease even more because additional layoffs are expected in the wake of the merger.

At least 4,000 layoffs have already resulted from WaMu's acquisition in the L.A. area in the past two years.

Despite its large L.A. operation, WaMu's executive presence here is relatively light. Its senior executive is Robert Flowers, who was recently named president of community investment and development for California, Texas and Florida. However, he is a native of Washington state and until this year has spent his career in Seattle. With the exception of Flowers, the L.A. operation of Washington Mutual will be run by executives in Seattle.

WaMu has been trying to ingratiate itself with L.A. residents and local politicians. Chairman Kerry Killinger is now an advisor to Mayor Richard Riordan, and the bank recently acted as a sponsor of the Van Gogh exhibit at the L.A. County Museum.

Wells Fargo

It wasn't until its purchase of First Interstate in 1996 that Wells Fargo became a major force in L.A. banking. That deal, however, is often remembered as an example of how not to conduct a merger.

Technical difficulties connected to the conversion of the two banks' computer systems resulted in some well-publicized foul-ups, including the temporary disappearance of customer deposits. The company also suffered a larger than expected exodus of former First Interstate employees after the merger, due to a hefty severance package put in place by First Interstate.

Today, Wells Fargo has 229 banking "stores" in Los Angeles, including 169 traditional branches and other supermarket banking centers, and employs 5,623 people in the county. Roughly 2 million customers account for $9.5 billion in deposits.

The top executive locally is Paul Watson. He runs Wells' commercial and corporate banking unit, which lends to middle-market businesses throughout the U.S. Last year, Wells itself was acquired by Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp., a merger that so far has had limited impact on bank activities in Southern California.

However, as part of the merger deal, Wells Fargo did add to its local empire Foothill Group Inc., one of the nation's largest asset-backed lenders.

Wells Fargo has for years put an emphasis on convenience. Following the logic that younger customers would rather use an ATM or the Internet to do their banking, Wells has closed branches and offered packages to customers that penalized them with service fees for using branches.

That may be about to change. Watson said one result of the merger is that Wells will be attempting to make its branches more user-friendly.

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