A South Florida entrepreneur sees value in the old bank brand. Bank of America may be unable to stop its use.
By JEFF HARRINGTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2000
What's the price tag for perhaps the most valuable brand name in Florida banking?
For South Florida banker Reid Mack, a couple hundred dollars did the trick.
In what could be a major marketing coup, Mack registered with the state to use the Barnett name for three new ventures: Barnett Mortgage Co., Barnett Credit Services Inc. and Barnett Lending Services Inc.
The cost: $70 per name. That's the bare-bones cost for incorporating an entity with the state.
Mack intends to tie the three ventures into a new bank he wants to launch in South Florida by next year. The private bank would be geared to rich customers in Miami.
Bank of America (formerly NationsBank) didn't seek to keep or renew the various Barnett names with the Secretary of State's division of corporations after its 1998 buyout of Barnett Bank, then the largest and arguably most highly regarded bank in Florida.
Barnett Lending Services was voluntarily dissolved by the old Barnett in August 1998. Barnett Credit Services was dissolved by the state in 1995 for failure to file an annual report; Barnett Mortgage merged last March intoHomeside Lending Inc., making the name available.
Mack seized the opportunity. A 15-year veteran in Florida banking, he most recently ran the loan department for the former Bank of Florida, a small Miami bank bought by BankUnited.
Bank of America really didn't want the Barnett name, Mack said. "They changed the signs as fast as they could."
To him, the Barnett name has plenty of cachet: "Barnett for over 100 years had been trying to make this name into something recognized throughout Florida and respected," he said. "I thought there was still some intrinsic value left."
Asked if his name game will confuse people into believing they are dealing with the old Barnett, Mack hesitated. "I don't know," he said. "I think it depends on the person."
He thinks most savvy folks will realize the old Barnett is gone. But "you might run into someone who never even knew what happened to Barnett," he said.
For its part, Bank of America has its lawyers looking at its options.
Spokeswoman Angela Ashley notes the banking titan still holds federal copyrights that could supersede any state registration -- including the federal trademark for the green-and-white Barnett logo that used to be omnipresent in Florida.
Speaking for the state, bureau chief of commercial recordings Karon Beyer said, "We didn't do anything inappropriate or improper. The names were available and we couldn't deny (the requests)."
If Bank of America thinks customers are being deceived, "that's a private matter they've got to work out," Beyer said.
Mack, who is raising $25-million for his bank start-up, originally planned to buy the Barnett Bank name as well. He found out, however, that regulators don't want to let an enterprise use the word "bank" in its name unless it has received a state banking charter.
Now, he is reconsidering using "Barnett Bank" as his start-up's name even if it is still available when he receives regulatory approval. Instead, Mack and his two chief partners are considering an alternative that shouldn't be too controversial -- using their own names.