In the early 1980s Stephens bought 9.3 percent of Worthen bank in Little Rock while Riady's Lippo Group purchased 9.4 percent. Lippo paid about $16 million for its share, and installed James Riady as a bank director in 1984. Stephens-Lippo continued to increase their share of Worthen stock, up to 36.7 percent.
Worthen Banking Corp. was sold to Boatmen's Bancshares Inc. of St. Louis in 1995 for $535 million. Members of the Stephens family owned 22 percent of Worthen at the time of the sale, and acquired shares in Boatmen's. In addition, the investment bank Stephens Inc. retained the right to handle the trades and to collect commissions for Worthen Investments, which was folded into Boatman's Investment Services, Boatman's securities subsidiary. All other securities trades at Boatman's Investment Services are handled by Pershing Inc. of New Jersey.
In 1996 Boatman's Bancshares Inc. was being acquired for around $9 billion by NationsBank Corp. of Charlotte, North Carolina. The merger made NationsBank the fourth largest U.S. banking franchise. The investment bank Stephens Inc. was brought in to give a "fairness opinion" on behalf of NationsBank Corp. shareholders, even though the Stephens family, through their Boatmen's stock holdings, stood to make more than $200 million on the acquisition. Curt Bradbury, the chief operating officer at Stephens Inc., and also the former chief executive of Worthen Bank. Stephens Inc. represented NationsBank in the merger negotiations, while Goldman Sachs represented Boatmen's.
NationsBank in turn merged into Bank of America.