The start-up class of '84 was the biggest ever, but a dozen years later its remnants show only a glimmer of the glamour of the go-go '80s.

Three hundred ninety-one of the depository institutions that opened in 1984 were commercial banks. Today only 154 commercial banks from that year (including two that started then as thrifts) remain.

All together the independent survivors earned $104 million last year. Assets totaled $14.2 billion at yearend, but only 35 of the banks had more than $100 million.

Return on equity for 153 of the group (FDIC figures for the 154th seem to be in error) average 10.41%, and return on assets 0.95% - below the industrywide 14.68% on equity and 1.17% on assets. Only 51 of the group had ROEs above 15%, considered a benchmark for good returns to shareholders, according an American Banker ranking of the class survivors by return on equity.

The numbers are unimpressive because the survivors of the class of '84 are the less aggressive of the class, analysts said; most of those that grew fast or were formed for a quick sell are gone.

"Some of these banks were built by people in the community who were only interested in the bank serving the community," said Steven J. Didion, bank analyst with Hoefer & Arnett in San Francisco. "They weren't in it for a big kill. ... Growth didn't mean a lot to them as long as it was serving the lending needs of the area."

With the economy at a peak, the mid-'80s saw some of the most intense activity in new bank ventures in many years. The number of banks hit an all-time high at the end of 1984, at 14,496. Banks had been doing well up to that point, and investors wanted to get in on the action.

"It was one of those periods when you had capital looking for a place to invest," said Rudy Everett Schupp, chairman and chief executive of $335 million-asset Republic Security Bank, West Palm Beach, Fla., a member of the class of '84.

Republic, which converted from a federal thrift charter in November, is one of the few of the 154 that's growing; its assets at yearend totaled $358 million.

For many investors and bankers, the fun came to an abrupt end in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the recession brought many banks and thrifts to their knees. And others sold out in ensuing years as consolidation took its toll on the class.

Though the American Banker survey shows many of the survivors lagging, the class also includes the likes of Fidelity Bank of University Park, Tex. Fidelity had $268 million in assets, an ROE of 22.89%, and an ROA of 1.62%; its equity-to-assets ratio was 8.08%.

Another winner is $220 million-asset First National Bank of Park Cities, in the Dallas suburbs of Highland Park and University Park. It has cranked out earnings averaging 17% of equity for the past seven years and is the fastest-growing bank in the area, said chairman and chief executive Tom Turner. Its 1995 return on equity was 16.36%; its ROA was 1.31%.

Mr. Turner said there were 15 other financial institutions in the market when First National was chartered. Fourteen have failed, along with several other start-up ventures. "We're now the oldest bank in our market," he said.

The hefty premiums that many of the class of 1984 fetched when sold are driving other investors to look again at start-up efforts, said Arnold Danielson, chairman of Rockville, Md.-based Danielson Associates.

Mr. Schupp of Republic Security agreed. "They're seeing that the ones that survived and performed well are selling for huge premiums," he said. "That's attractive. It invites new entrants when you see people prospering like that.

What's more, he noted, "some of the guys who are selling are young enough to do it again, if they have the will."

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