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Mississippi banking customers say hello AmSouth

Good-bye, Deposit Guaranty

Today’s the day — March 20, 2000 — Deposit Guaranty officially changes its name to AmSouth Bank in the final step to merge the organizations since plans were announced last June.

“Our top priority in merging the systems and operations of Deposit Guaranty into AmSouth is customer satisfaction,” said Stan Pratt, area executive and city president. “We’re making every effort to ensure that this transition is smooth for our customers. That’s really how we’re going to measure our success.”

AmSouth and First American Corp., which includes Deposit Guaranty, conducted the conversions in four steps. In February, DGB’s Louisiana branches adopted AmSouth’s name. Mississippi is the second of four geographic areas to merge systems and operations. In April and May, First American’s Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia and Georgia markets will be converted to AmSouth.

“Our preparation has been very extensive, and we are making every effort and thinking through virtually every possibility to make sure these last steps in our merger are as smooth as possible for our customers,” said William L. Watson, president of the Mississippi banking group for AmSouth. “Our goal is to make sure the only changes our customers feel are positive.”

In Jackson, employees clocked more than 26,000 hours of training on AmSouth systems, procedures and products. A special simulated training program was developed to help tellers learn the new computer system. Each branch manager spent about 130 hours in training. Statewide, branch employees logged cumulative training time of about 50,000 hours.

“On average, that’s 88.5 hours per person,” Pratt said. “We have really spent time and effort to get them ready. The process was a challenge to do all that training, continue to serve customers, and meet our sales goals, but our people have done it. We’ve done extremely well and I’m very, very proud of them. And they’re ready. They understand how to operate under AmSouth, and I think it’s going to go very smoothly.”

In a program dubbed “RelationshiPal,” a pair of experienced AmSouth employees will work in each DGB branch this week, Pratt said.

“The program is designed to provide immediate hands-on assistance for the week prior to and the week after conversion,” he said. “We think it will make a big difference.”

Job reductions as a result of the merger were not customer contact positions, Pratt said.

“Customers will go in our branches and see the same professionals they are accustomed to seeing,” he said.

An aspect of the transition that is very different from the merger between Deposit Guaranty and Tennessee-based First American Bank is that bank employees are very enthusiastic about the change, Pratt said.

“They’re excited about being part of AmSouth and the level of service and line of products AmSouth provides,” he said. “One of the major components of a successful merger conversion is the attitude of employees. I am very pleased that they are so excited.”

When DGB officials announced the $2.7-billion merger with First American in December 1997, it was said that job losses could reach about 900. The merger was finalized in May. Soon after, E.B. “Bud” Robinson Jr., then chairman of the Deposit Guaranty systems and chief operating officer of First American Corp, said the merger did not go as well as bank officials had hoped. For instance, teller lines had become too long.

“We underestimated the unemployment in our markets, the turnover and the attractiveness of positions to some of the people that didn’t have jobs or didn’t job post for them,” he said at that time. “That put us behind the eight ball.”

Last year, AmSouth, with $43.4 billion in assets, making it the 19th largest bank holding company in the U.S., operated 661 branches and 1,343 ATMs in nine southeastern states. AmSouth (NYSE: ASO) traces its roots to the early 1870s when First National Bank of Birmingham was established to serve the city’s industrial market.

As the name changes, new products will be introduced, particularly for small businesses, Pratt said.

“Our FlexLine consists of a simple one-page application that also serves as the note itself,” he said. “Up to $100,000 line of credit can be easily accessed by writing checks or using a debit card. Business Express, another unique product for small businesses that will be introduced this week, will allow personal and business services to be wrapped into one account with discount prices. It’s a very, very popular product in traditional AmSouth markets. Tiered money market accounts for small businesses with very attractive rates will be available and we will be able to offer equipment leases to small businesses, something we haven’t been able to do here.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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