First Union Corp. said the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency approved its purchase of Signet Banking Corp., moving it one step closer tobecoming Virginia's largest bank.

The bank offered to acquire Richmond, Va.-based Signet, with $12 billion of assets and about 230 branches, on July 21,. The transaction would boost First Union's share of the Richmond, Baltimore, Hampton Roads, Va., and Washington markets. At Friday's closing price the transaction would be worth about $3.4 billion.

The Federal Reserve Board approved the combination Oct. 14. With approval from Signet shareholders, who meet Friday, the transaction could be completed by Nov. 28.

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