For 15 years, Pastor Ruth Goodwin has been preaching to Industrial Bank that it should expand into her mostly minority neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

And for 15 years, she said, all she heard was "maybe." But this Tuesday, the persistent preacher finally got more.

More than 100 residents of Northeast Washington, as well as local dignitaries, turned out to celebrate as the nation's second-largest black- owned bank opened the only bank branch in the capital's Brookland neighborhood. The last bank to operate in the area, First Union Corp., had moved out two years before.

Although the opening appeared on its face to be routine, it reflected a changing strategy for Oxon Hill, Md.-based Industrial and its young management. Having acted in recent years to streamline operations, cut costs, and upgrade technology and services, bank officials said they're now ready to focus again on growth.

"I'd like to see us be a regional institution in the Washington area," said bank president B. Doyle Mitchell, who is grandson of Industrial's founder. "We'd like to be a provider of high-quality financial services, not just for the African-American community but for all communities that feel they're underserved at larger banks."

The new impetus for growth comes four years after Mr. Mitchell took the reins of the $245 million-asset bank from his father. Believing that it needed to follow the migration of its customers to the suburbs, he has expanded into minority-populated areas of Maryland, while seeking ways to become more efficient and customer-oriented.

The bank has introduced a credit card, as well as telephone and computer banking for customers. In 1996, it ended its old pension plan, recording a one-time charge of $300,000, and installed a more modern 401(k) plan. That will result in lower pension-related costs, Mr. Mitchell said.

But such steps came at the expense of profits. Earnings have languished, and Industrial reported returns on assets and equity at yearend of only 0.64% and 8.48%, respectively, according to Sheshunoff Information Services, Austin, Tex.

Industrial Bank has also reported sluggish asset growth since the end of 1994 of only 6.5%. The branch opened this week was the bank's first expansion since it bought two branches in suburban Prince Georges County, Md., from the Resolution Trust Corp. in 1994 and moved its headquarters to Oxon Hill, southeast of the city.

Bank officials plan steady growth of 7% to 10% per year and expect ROE to reach double digits beginning in 1998, Mr. Mitchell said.

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