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Unhappiness in a banking colony

Published September 8, 2003

It was bad enough, Ken Thomas says, that Florida has been turned into a banking colony dominated by out-of-state banks.

But for Thomas, a Miami professor and longtime observer of the banking scene, insult was added to injury a couple of weeks ago at the Florida Bankers Association annual convention when Mike Fields, an executive from North Carolina banking giant Bank of America, was named president of the state group.

"This is a milestone event because it suggests the FBA itself has for all practical purposes now thrown in the towel in admitting there effectively is no such thing as "Florida Banking' any more. . . just "Banking in Florida' by out of state giants," Thomas lamented in an e-mail missive.

Turns out Thomas apparently overshot. Alex Sanchez, the FBA's executive director, points out that the bank routinely rotates the presidency every year between large, mid size and small banks. A representative of First Union, the predecessor company of North Carolina's Wachovia Corp., is among past presidents. An exec from the small Bank of Pasco is on the rotation for next year.

But Thomas' touchiness over megabanks isn't surprising.

Back in 1996, Thomas first decried Florida's status as one of the top 10 "banking colonies," defined by when 50 percent or more of deposits are controlled by out-of-state holding companies. Since then, the colonization has only intensified. As of last year, Florida was the fourth largest banking colony (after Washington, D.C.; Idaho; and Oregon) with 71 percent of its assets controlled by non-Florida institutions.

The biggest of the big "carpetbaggers," as Thomas calls them: Fields' Bank of America.

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