Most start-up banks need something to put them on the map - an edge - to become profitable quickly.

Bank of Barnwell County in South Carolina is getting just such a boost, and from an unlikely source: one of the state's largest independent banks.

Carolina First said this week it would sell five branches with $50 million of deposits to Bank of Barnwell County, which is still being organized in the city of Barnwell. The branches are in a nook of the state about 45 miles south of Columbia, the capital - well away from Carolina First's home base in Greenville - and would give the de novo bank an enviable little network.

Terms of the deal, which is expected to be completed in January, were not disclosed.

"We are pleased that the purchaser of the five branches is another South Carolina-based community bank which shares our goal of serving the banking needs of South Carolinians," Mack I. Whittle Jr., chief executive of $1.5 billion-asset Carolina First, said in a statement. "Our decision to sell the five offices in no way reflects a shift in our strategy but merely permits Carolina First to focus our efforts."

Its officials had wanted to sell to an independent bank that would cater to its customers and employees, said Mary M. Gentry, treasurer. The company acquired the branches in 1993, she said, but wants to concentrate on its core franchise. Carolina First would not have any branches in or near the towns where the Bank of Barnwell branches are located.

For the buyer, the deal is the linchpin of a plan to form rural banks in South Carolina and keep banking independent. Community Capital Corp., Greenwood, S.C., will be Bank of Barnwell's holding company. Community Capital already owns a de novo bank in Clemson and a bank in Greenwood.

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