John V. Pollock, president and chief executive of the National Bank of Commerce, was incorrectly identified in yesterday's Business section.
Just last month, a top Citicorp official sat before Congress complaining that federal requirements for taking over sick savings and loan institutions were so stifling and costly that the attitude of many prospective buyers was simply, "So why bother?"
But bother, Citicorp did.
Even as Citicorp Vice Chairman Hans H. Angermueller urged lawmakers to simplify the process, his company was wrestling a few blocks away with oil billionaire Gordon Getty for the right to buy the District's second largest S&L, ailing National Permanent Bank.
Citicorp won late Monday night when federal regulators awarded it the right to buy National Permanent and agreed to put up $51.8 million to offset part of the thrift's $80 million deficit.
The decision gave Citicorp its fourth sick savings and loan in as many years. The acquisitions have enabled the nation's biggest bank company, with assets of $173.6 billion, to move -- at comparatively modest cost -- from its New York headquarters into the lucrative markets of San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and now Washington.
"They're out to establish a nationwide branch network. Call it whatever you want, but that's their intent," said Stephen Skaggs, analyst with Sheshunoff & Co. Inc., a bank consulting company in Austin, Tex. "It's just a matter of time before Texas is next -- there are a lot of troubled thrifts here."
The only stipulation imposed by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board on Citicorp's purchase of National Permanent, and the three other S&Ls it has acquired since 1982, is that Citicorp must maintain them as thrifts and not convert them into banks. Citicorp also faces branching restrictions. In this area, it cannot branch into Virginia or add to the single National Permanent branch in Maryland. On Monday, a bank board spokesman incorrectly said Citicorp could branch into Virginia and Maryland.
The restriction in Maryland matters little. Last summer, Citicorp won approval from the Maryland legislature to open a full-service bank July 1 in exchange for opening a huge credit-card processing plant in Hagerstown on Friday. The credit-card center eventually will employ several hundred people.
A bigger stumbling block is a federal restriction that prevents Citicorp from selling services provided by one of its affiliates to customers of another. Citicorp's credit-card operation in South Dakota, for example, cannot be offered through National Permanent.
To Citicorp, which now has local access to consumer deposits in the Washington area for the first time, such restrictions are a small price to pay for entry into what is considered among the best banking markets in the country.
Most bank analysts predict it will be only a matter of time before Citicorp will be able to convert the thrifts to banks or to combine the operations of its commerical banks and thrifts.
"Our general outlook is that there will be changes in the years ahead as laws change and attitudes change," Citicorp spokesman John J. Maloney said. "If, in 1980, someone had said we'd own thrifts in three states and the District, we would have said they were smoking something."
National Bank of Washington President John Pollock -- head of the Greater Washington Financial Institutions Association -- said, "Everyone has looked forward to Washington being a financial services center. Having Citicorp here will accelerate that. We have no problem competing as long as it's fair."
Dewitt T. Hartwell, chairman and president of Columbia First Federal Savings & Loan, the District's largest, said, "I think to have a healthy thrift is good for everyone. Competition is here to stay. We just have to be up to it. Citicorp would have gotten into the city one way or another."
While local bankers can expect more competition, if Citicorp follows the pattern it has established in California, Illinois and Florida, consumers will not find much change in their day-to-day dealings with the thrift.
Citicorp will launch an advertising blitz in newspapers and on TV and radio when it officially takes over National Permenent, which will occur as soon as key banking regulators bless the deal.
But beyond a name change -- probably to Citicorp Savings of Washington -- and greater public confidence in the institution, little will seem different at first.
Citicorp is no newcomer to the Washington area. In a recent letter to the City Council, Citicorp said its local investments include: $1.1 billion in loans. $250 million in residential mortgages, which, Citicorp pointed out, " . . . equals National Permanent's total. . . . " $600 million in commercial construction loans in downtown D.C. since 1979. Six hundred and forty thousand Washington area households with a Citibank credit card -- VISA, MasterCard, Diners Club or Choice.
The purchase of National Permanent, however, makes Citicorp the first of the so-called money center banks -- the giants of American finance -- to gain the authority to take retail consumer deposits from offices in Washington.
Two other giants, $33.4 billion Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh and $87.7 billion Chase Manhattan Corp. of New York, arrived in Maryland before Citicorp but soon all three will be competing head to head.
Analsyts said that Citicorp is unlikely to start a rate war and isn't trying to lure what Wall Street calls "hot money," the deposits of $100,000 or more from customers such as brokers, companies and weathly individuals who pull funds in and out of institutions depending on slight changes in interest rates.
"Citicorp doesn't want the hot money," said Joseph Jolson, analyst at Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. "Citicorp wants a stable deposit base -- it wants lots and lots of customers and to earn $20 on each one. That's its strategy."
Said Citicorp's Maloney, "We will compete, but we won't come in and break the market with price wars . But no one should think that doesn't mean we won't compete." In the two years since Citicorp bought a troubled thrift in Chicago, the New York banking giant has become the largest mortgage lender in the Chicago area, he noted.
The biggest change at National Permanent, everyone agrees, will be renewed confidence among consumers and workers. "It's been our good fortune in each thrift we have acquired to inherit good staff -- people who are happy to be rescued from a limbo situation," Maloney said.