When First Bank System Inc. agreed to buy cross-town competitor Metropolitan Financial Corp. last year, the $1.4 billion of indirect auto loans that came with the Minneapolis-based thrift must have given management pause.

That's because First Bank had spent the preceding five years rebuilding its consumer loan portfolio in an effort to make it contribute more to the bottom line. And that had meant getting out of businesses like indirect auto lending that could not be sold through alternative delivery channels.

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