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Regions Banks completes conversion on schedule

On November 11, Birmingham-based Regions Financial Corporation (NYSE: RF) completed the final phase of converting Union Planters Bank branches to Regions Bank systems.

“We couldn’t be more proud of how the conversion and integration process has evolved,” said Curt Gabardi, one of two Regions leaders in Mississippi. “It’s just a real testament to our associates, who never wavered in providing exceptional customer service.”

Even though Regions’ acquisition of Memphis-based Union Planters Banks officially closed August 12, the merger integration process had been ongoing since July 2004. In June, the company collapsed the Union Planters charter into Regions’ and began operating the combined company under a single charter, an $84-billion-asset company operating 1,300 banking offices and 1,600 automatic teller machines (ATMs) with 26,000 employees in a 16-state geographic region covering the South, Midwest and Texas.

“Deposits are up 22% year-to-date,” said Gabardi, regional president of the Greater Mississippi region, which includes all offices from Canton to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Jimmy Brown leads the north Mississippi market. “Typically in a merger, you can project a 5% to 10% runoff, but we’ve seen new account growth increase and we feel very good about those results.”

Mississippi is a new market for Regions, and Memphis is the hometown for Regions Mortgage, Regions Insurance Group and Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc., the company’s investment and brokerage firm.

“The first conversion took place in April in most of the Regions and Union Planters overlap markets in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, North Alabama, South Kentucky and eastern and middle Tennessee,” said Gabardi. “The second conversion in August involved branches in Mississippi and the remainder of Tennessee, including the greater Memphis area.”

The final conversion, which took place November 4-8, involved more than 800,000 customers in 320 branches in South Florida and the Midwest. The Union Planters branches in South Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri had been operating under the Regions name since January.

“It speaks well of our advertising branding campaign and conversion plan, which was planned in a slow and methodical way so we wouldn’t screw it up,” said Gabardi. “This market has seen bad mergers. Clearly, we wanted to represent that we weren’t going to hurry up to do it wrong and disrupt customer relationships.”

Susan Cuculla, marketing coordinator for Region’s Greater Mississippi market, said transition teams from across the bank’s footprint did such an effective job with hands-on training and oversight that virtually no housekeeping details remain.

“This was probably one of the cleanest mergers and conversions known to man,” she said.

Rick Adams, executive vice president of commercial banking for Regions, said the financial company was adamant about employees “maintaining the community bank feel we’ve always had.”

“Now we have more options and tools than ever to offer business customers,” he said. “We’ve got all of the assets and expertise of a super regional bank, but we’re still the same people we were August 12.”

In October, Regions launched a Small Business Resource Center at regions.com that provides interactive workshops, planning guides and information to plan and run a small business.

“Clearly, from every distribution channel, whether a physical channel with a relationship manager or our online portal, we want to make sure the small businessperson has access to us in a way they’re most comfortable,” said Gabardi. “Our online portal simply augments the relationship they have with one of our relationship managers.”

Fortune magazine listed Regions in its 2005 Top 10 Most Admired Super Regional Banks. The U.S. Small Business Administration has named Regions one of the top business-friendly financial institutions in America. And Computerworld has consistently ranked Regions among its annual list of “100 Best Places to Work in Information Technology.”

“We thought it was a great place to work, but we had no idea how touchy-feely the company was and what an incredibly good time we would have working here,” said Cuculla. “People anticipated the merger would be difficult. It’s impressive that we haven’t lost one associate during the merger process or Hurricane Katrina.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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