Banc One Corp. gained a toehold in Oklahoma on Thursday by agreeing to buy Central Banking Group Inc., the state's seventh-largest bank company, for about $105 million, or twice book value.

Central Banking, which operates two banks and a life insurance company in Oklahoma City, is a privately held company with $541 million of assets.

Banc One's decision to continue its expansion drive through a relatively small acquisition of a healthy bank bears out recent remarks by its chairman and chief executive, John B. McCoy.

Breaking a Rule

He told American Banker that he will occasionally break his rule of buying only those banks that rank third or better in home market share to get into attractive areas. Central Banking earned $7.5 million in 1992, for returns of 1.41% on average assets and 16.13% on average equity, according to data from Sheshunoff Information Services, an American Banker affiliate. Its nonperforming loans were a modest 2% of total loans.

Oklahoma -- a fragmented market that had 443 active bank charters at yearend 1992 -- has already lured many of Banc One's midwestern competitors. Boatmen's Bancshares Inc. of St. Louis owns the state's third-largest bank company and Fourth Financial Corp. of Wichita acquired its fourth-biggest bank.

The state has gained luster in recent years as the economy recovered from a decade-long recession provoked by successive energy and real estate crashes. Oklahoma banks cumulatively earned $679.4 million in 1992, up 35% from 1991 and 51.5% from 1990, according to Sheshunoff.

Oklahoma's largest bank company, BOK Financial Corp., has long been considered an attractive buyout candidate, but recently ruled out an interstate deal.

George Kaiser, the chairman and majority owner of the $2.6 billion-asset company, has outlined plans to sell his shares to local investors.

Banc One's purchase of Central Banking continues the Ohio company's torrid pace of expansion and its renewed focus on healthy companies.

William Boardman, who runs the company's merger team, said in a recent interview that Banc One is now vying with powerful competitors for strong regional companies since there are few government-assisted thrift deals left to exploit.

Just last month, Banc One announced plans to buy FirTier Financial Inc., Nebraska's second-largest bank company, with $3 billion of assets, for 2.6 times book value.The Biggest Players in OklahomaOrganization Assets Parent (billions)BOK Financial Corp. $2.6 IndependentTulsaLiberty Bancorp 2.4 IndependentOklahoma CityBoatmen's First National Bank 1.4 Boatmen's BancsharesOklahoma City St. LouisFourth National Bank 1.0 Fourth Financial Corp.Tulsa Wichita, Kan.Bancfirst Corp. 0.7 IndependentOklahoma CityF&M Bancorp. 0.6 IndependentTulsaCentral Banking Group 0.5 Banc One Corp.(*)Oklahoma City Columbus, Ohio(*) Acquisition pendingSources: American Banker, Sheshunoff Information Services

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