An Alabama thrift's switch to a commercial bank charter could be the first of several such conversions in the state this year.
Pinnacle Bank in Jasper last month shed its federal savings bank charter to adopt a state commercial bank charter. At the same time it formed a holding company, Pinnacle Bancshares.
Wayne Curtis, superintendent of Alabama banks, said requests for applications to convert suggest at least four or five other thrifts will seek to do so this year, in anticipation of congressional attempts to dissolve the thrift charter.
"There's uncertainty about the future of the federal thrift charter- that's the main factor," Mr. Curtis said. "Many thrifts see perhaps a brighter future as a commercial bank than as a thrift."
There were no such conversions in the state last year, and two in 1995, he said.
Pinnacle pointed out that its new charter and holding company structure would let it buy back stock without tax costs it would have incurred as a federal savings bank.
The institution has been gradually building its commercial loan portfolio over the past few years. Pinnacle had $10.6 million of commercial loans on the books on Sept. 30-double the amount at yearend 1993.
"Pinnacle Bank can adjust to a new regulatory structure and to operate as a commercial bank on our own terms, rather than being required to convert at a later date," said president Robert B. Nolen Jr. in a written statement.
Mr. Curtis said he's encouraging other federal savings and loans and savings banks to discuss the benefits of a commercial bank charter with his department.
"It's very easy to communicate and talk to us," he said. "People walk in my office every day."
Alabama is home to 181 commercial banks, of which 145 are state chartered. With Pinnacle's conversion, only 19 thrifts-all federally chartered-remain.
Charles G. Wolbach, chairman of the Southern Community Bankers, said the thrift trade group will remain in business despite its decreasing membership. He said that there the rush to convert has subsided, because many thrifts were satisfied with Congress' work to meld the Savings Association Insurance Fund and the Bank Insurance Fund.
"We feel as if the thrifts and bank charters are moving toward each other," Mr. Wolbach said. "At this point, it really doesn't matter which charter you have."
Mr. Wolbach, president and chief executive officer of First Federal Bank, Tuscaloosa, said it has no plans to convert.
"We are focusing on mortgage banking," he said. "Once there's a single charter, I think the issue will be moot."