WALTON-owned bank plans changes, could become Arkansas' largest bank

Tuesday, July 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ Banks owned by the Walton family are planning to consolidate the 14 entities under one charter and base the group in Arkansas, or, perhaps, Oklahoma.

The 14 banks with their branches included in Arvest Bank Group Inc. have to make individual filings to regulators, plus face the expense of operating independently. Consolidation will allow the banks in southern Missouri, western Oklahoma and Arkansas to serve customers with ease at any Arvest branch.

If the banks consolidate under a single charter in Arkansas, the $4.5 billion in assets will make Arvest the largest bank chartered in the state.

The bank's owners include Helen Walton and sons Jim, Rob and John. Jim Walton heads the company. Helen Walton is the widow of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton.

A pending opinion in a case before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could influence where Arvest makes its headquarters. Before the court is an appeal of a November ruling by U.S. District Judge H. Franklin Waters that invalidated Arkansas' anti-usury provision in the state constitution.

The Arkansas provision caps interest rates at 5 percent above the federal discount rate. But banks base in other states are not bound by the provision. The law has long been a sore point among state banks and a decision on whether Waters' decision is upheld is eagerly awaited in the sector. Arvest's Bank of Bentonville is the defendant in the case.

Oral arguments are tentatively set for mid-September before the 8th Circuit.

Arvest's plan calls for its banks to consolidate under Fayetteville-based McIlroy Bank & Trust's charter, at an average of one a month. Arvest can keep one of its five Oklahoma branches independent until the court ruling to leave open the possibility of locating in that state.

Arvest has not yet filed papers to make the consolidation moves, but the paperwork is being prepared said Bob Kelly, president of Arvest Financial Management, the accounting and financing department of Arvest Bank Group.

Kelly said customers have said they want Arvest to make its branches more accessible.