The small southern Virginia subsidiary of North Carolina's First Citizens BancShares is about to get much bigger by embracing markets NationsBank surrendered.

Pace American Bank, which First Citizens bought last month, currently has four offices and $60 million of assets. After it buys nine NationsBank branches in tiny towns in the region, however, it will add more than $150 million of deposits.

"Those nine markets are all very similar geographically to the markets we've had a lot of success serving in North Carolina," said Chris Bubin, public relations manager for Raleigh-based First Citizens. "They are all in smaller communities, and the business there has an emphasis on small and midsize businesses and consumer lending."

The transaction mirrors similar deals around the country, in which community banks or the subsidiaries of midsize holding companies pick up branches, often rural, that have been either shuttered or sold by the growing regionals. Similar deals have taken place in the Pacific Northwest in recent years, and many analysts believe community banks will be the branch cherry-pickers in the post-merger Fleet-Shawmut organization in New England.

In the Virginia case, all of the NationsBank branches are in small towns, and all date back to the old C&S/Sovran Corp. franchise that NationsBank bought in 1991. Southern Virginia was Sovran's original turf, before it merged with banks from northern Virginia and Atlanta.

When the NationsBank deal is completed this week, Pace American will change its name to First Citizens Bank. John Traylor, president of Pace, said the bank had to change the NationsBank signs anyway. He added that the name change will clear up any confusion over Pace's identity.

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