BEVERLY HILLS - First Charter Bank announced this week it has hired a New York investment banking firm to assist in evaluating the bank's future.

First Charter, a $155 million institution based in Beverly Hills, has retained the services of Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, to assist "in evaluating alternative strategies to enhance shareholder value."

Alternatives include an outright sale of the bank, a merger with another financial institution, or a capital infusion. Sandler O'Neill is a New York-based investment banking firm that provides financial advisory and transaction execution services primarily to middle market financial institutions.

First Charter Bank is a residential construction lender that ran into trouble in the early 1990s. It raised $7.1 million in capital in a stock offering in early 1994, putting it in the well-capitalized category and lifting a regulatory order.

First Charter, established in 1983, has a branch office in West Los Angeles.

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