Bank jobs: Employment loss in Mississippi near U.S. average

By Stephen Singer

Daily Journal

In an expanding labor force, employment at banks in Mississippi declined by about 1.5 percent since early 1995 as holding companies continue to buy banks and consolidate branches, a study reported recently.

The slight job loss was comparable to employment in the industry nationwide.

Employment at banks in Mississippi declined from 15,054 to 14,845, or 1.39 percent between March 1995 and March 1996, according to Bauer Financial Reports Inc. of Coral Gables, Fla.

The research firm cited industry consolidation as the primary reason for employment losses in the banking industry in the United States. Jobs declined from 1.73 million to 1.7 million, a drop of 1.37 percent during the same 12-month period.

Small employment losses are "actually a lot when the economy is growing," said Karen L. Dorway, vice president and director of research at Bauer.

The Bauer Group Inc., a bank research and rating firm founded in 1981, analyzes the banking industry and credit unions, Dorway said.

The U.S. labor force grew by about 1.5 percent, from 134.4 million in July 1995 to 136.2 million in July 1996, the Mississippi Employment Security Commission reported. Mississippi's labor force grew by a scant 6,000, to nearly 1.3 million in the same 12-month period, according to the state agency.

Job losses in banking were heaviest in the first quarter of January to March 1996. The research group, which analyzes information filed by banks with federal agencies, reported that the industry shed 27,265 jobs nationwide compared with the last quarter of 1995.

The number of jobs increased from between 500 to 2,000 in each of the previous three quarters.

The sudden and large job loss "kind of jumped out at us," Dorway said.

Consolidation may become more intense following legislation that allows bank buyouts across state lines.

Federal law enacted last year gives states the right to participate in interstate branching. Gov. Kirk Fordice signed legislation earlier this year that allows out-of-state banks to buy Mississippi banks and operate them as branches.

The law, which takes effect May 1, 1997, also permits Mississippi-based banks to open branches in other states.

Mississippi stats

Employment at the Tupelo-based Bank of Mississippi went against the job loss trend. The number of jobs increased from 1,346 to 1,416, or 5 percent, according to the report.

"What's more important than consolidation is our growth," President Aubrey Patterson said.

BancorpSouth Inc., the bank's holding company, reported assets of $3.4 billion June 30, an increase of 9 percent since June 1995.

Union Planters Bank, which operates with five state charters in Mississippi following the purchase of Sunburst Bank, pared its work force to 1,161 in March 1996 from 1,565 a year earlier, a drop of nearly 35 percent, according to the report.

But employment at the bank's Northeast Mississippi charter increased from 87 to 136. In Northeast Mississippi, the bank operates 14 branches in Ashland, Baldwyn, New Albany, Oxford, Ripley and Tupelo, said Yolaine Cousar, executive vice president in New Albany.

Job loss was greatest at the Union Planters branch in Grenada, according to the Bauer report. The number of employees declined from 1,338 to 292.

Union Planters opened a Hattiesburg branch that employed 179 workers at the end of March.

Trustmark National Bank, with 2,206 employees, is the largest bank employer in Mississippi, according to the Bauer report.

Deposit Guaranty is not far behind, with 2,128 employees, bank spokeswoman Pam Kloha said.

The number of employees at both banks was unchanged between 1995 and 1996.

Technological advances in the banking industry, such as automatic teller machines, were not blamed for replacing tellers and other employees. Electronic banking has had "no significant effect" on bank staff, Dorway said.

But employment may suffer as technological change becomes more extensive in banking, she said.

Rhode Island led the nation in industry job growth with an increase of nearly 44 percent, from 6,013 to 8,646, according to the Bauer Financial Report.

The largest employment loss in the nation was among Virginia banks, which cut jobs by 28 percent, from 51,676 to 37,010.

Despite the small job loss at Mississippi banks, the decline was highest in comparison with neighboring states.

Tennessee banks added 545 jobs, to 31,865, an increase of less than 2 percent, and Arkansas banks added 131 jobs, to 14,693, an increase of about 1 percent.

Alabama and Louisiana bank employment dropped by about a half-percent, to 26,575 and 23,078, respectively.

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