With a lawsuit and years of losses behind it, Boston Bank of Commerce is looking to buy other minority-owned banks.

The $78 million-asset bank said last week it has settled a lawsuit filed against it by former chief executive Ronald A. Homer, who was ousted in August 1996 after 13 years at the helm of Boston's only black-owned bank.

Mr. Homer, now chief executive officer of Access Capital Strategies LLC, a Cambridge, Mass., money management firm, sued the bank last November, claiming he was owed about $500,000 in salary and stock options. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Kevin Cohee, who succeeded Mr. Homer as chairman and chief executive officer, said the bank has ambitious plans to grow.

"Our goal is to acquire other minority banks, to build a national, minority-owned institution with several billion dollars of assets," Mr. Cohee said.

Mr. Cohee and his wife, senior vice president Teri Williams, came to Bank of Commerce in June 1995, investing $1 million in the then-struggling institution.

The bank lost a total of $3.3 million from 1992 to 1996 and almost $2 million in 1996 alone, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The agency issued a cease-and-desist order against the bank in 1993.

But Boston Bank of Commerce is showing signs of recovery. The FDIC lifted the order last spring, and the bank posted net income of $561,000 for 1997. Its capital ratio has grown to 11%, from just over 1% in 1995.

"In essence, what we have done is conduct a massive research experiment to understand African-Americans and credit, and understand how to lend to African-Americans profitably," Mr. Cohee said.

Mr. Cohee said he would like to apply what he has learned at Bank of Commerce to other minority-owned institutions.

"We now have our own models for determining who is creditworthy," he said. "We think we understand more about providing credit to African- Americans than anyone else in the country."

However, minority banks in other areas may be hesitant to team up with an out-of-towner, warned Dina Nichelson, president of the American League of Financial Institutions, a trade group for minority-owned thrifts.

"I don't believe small banks would see the greater good in a wider focus," she said. "These banks lend to focused areas and find great value in doing what they can for local communities."

If there is to be consolidation, Ms. Nichelson predicted it would be in cities with several minority banks, which could cut costs by combining operations.

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