One Bank's Girth Is Another's Mirth

IT'S DOWN AND DIRTY TIME IN the genteel world of banking. Boston-based US Trust (assets: $2 billion) has launched TV ads mocking the pending merger of Fleet and Shawmut (combined assets: $81 billion).

Now airing across New England, the ads show two overfed bankers listening to a loan applicant. The voice-over asks: "Now that they have twice the assets, will they sit on your loan twice as long?" The bench under the bankers cracks. The big bank, which will be the nation's ninth-largest, is not amused. "It doesn't pertain to the way we do business," a spokesman says.

Negative ads are a rarity among banks, except when a new behemoth rival is forming. US Trust had an identical print ad in 1987 involving a Bank of New England acquisition. After Bank of America and Security Pacific merged in 1992, small Redlands Federal Bank ran an ad about a teller line so long it had a sign warning that the "wait is 45 minutes from this point."

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