Golden State Warriors

It wasn't supposed to work this way. When BankAmerica Corp. and Security Pacific Corp. merged last April to form a $187 billion behemoth, analysts predicted the new giant would crush the competition. But other California bankers are fighting back and picking up new accounts by the thousands.

"We see this merger as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," says Dennis A. Shirley, marketing director for First Interstate Bank of California. With BofA closing 450 branches by April, First Interstate plans to grab customers who are finding banking with BofA a lot less convenient. "We're using tactics that border on guerrilla marketing."

TUMBLEWEEDS. BofA says it's not worried. "We have very aggressive account retention goals, and so far we're doing better than we expected," says Liam E. McGee, group executive vice-president for retail banking in California.

Still, the marketing assault continues. "Lost your sense of Security?" screams Redlands Federal Bank on 25 billboards in suburban Los Angeles. Its newspaper ads show two teller lines merging at a Disneyland-style sign proclaiming that the "wait is 45 minutes from this point." Sanwa Bank of California employees are setting up sidewalk card tables to sign up new customers across the street from closing branches. Says Kate M. Graham, vice-president for retail marketing: "We have radio, we have flyers, and we're painting our windows like Taco Bell."

Others are slightly more subtle. Great Western Bank is using actor Dennis Weaver for TV ads in which, after tying up his horse in a ghost town, he intones: "Used to be a bank here. One day it was in business; next day it was gone." Brushing away tumbleweeds, he says Great Western will always be around. Bank of Fresno is promoting free checking accounts for senior citizens since BofA dropped a similar program.

The campaigns are working. Bank of Fresno's deposits are up 19% since September, 1991, and Redlands Federal's have grown 12%. With 5.5 million checking accounts, BofA can afford some defections. But as more branches close, the procession of departing customers could start to look like a stampede.

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