Republic Bank of Clearwater, Fla., is trying to drum up business with one of the oldest products in banking - the passbook savings account.

"It's the return of the passbook," said John Sapanski, chief executive of the $550 million-asset bank on the west coast of Florida. "There are no other banks doing it that I know of."

Targeting affluent retirees, Republic has been pushing a product called Passbook Gold. The account requires a minimum balance of $10,000, as opposed to the customary $500 required by other savings accounts. It yields 4.3%.

Mr. Sapanksi said the account, rolled out last June, has been "going well." He declined, however, to specify how many customers have opened accounts.

Passbook accounts, he said, hold clear and enduring consumer appeal.

"I think there's a segment of people that likes having a running history of their account that goes on for years and years," said Mr. Sapanski, the former president of Dime Savings Bank in New York. "Some people will feel comfortable with this, like an old shoe."

The 1994 version of the passbook, which looks like a passport, features monthly balance and interest updates, available upon request.

"I don't figure this will take hold nationwide, but in the retirement areas, such as Florida, it could catch on," said John Mason, a senior vice president at Interstate/Johnson Lane, a brokerage firm based in Charlotte. N.C "If it does, you could see the Barnetts and the other big guys start to do it."

Most of the other community bankers in the area interviewed said they did not plan to reintroduce the banking relic, at least in the foreseeable future.

Richard Schultz, chief operating officer of Founder, National Trust Bank in Fort Myers, however, said that Founders has recently begun talking about the idea.

"I would think that every bank is considering ways to increase their deposits by improving their products or coming up with new ones," Mr. Schultz said.

While passbooks disappeared in most commercial banks 15 to 20 years ago, they continued to thrive in many thrifts. Now that thrifts are becoming more like commercial banks, however, banks may feel such products will enable them to protect or increase their deposit share, some bankers said.

Republic has been in the news recently for Other reasons, primarily its lightening-fast growth from an ailing $169 million-asset bank in early 1993 to an institution more than three times that size.

This was achieved through an acquisition, a stock offering, and funds from the original investors, William Hough and Mr. Sapanski.

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