acquiring Denver-based Union Bankshares Ltd. for $65 million of stock.

The deal for $340 million-asset Union -- Gold Banc's largest ever -- would boost its assets about 25%, to more than $1.5 billion, and increase deposits by 30%. More importantly, it would give the Kansas bank a presence in the booming Denver suburbs.

This acquisition is a watershed for Gold Banc,'' said chairman and chief executive officer Michael W. Gullion.

Gold, which operates banks in 18 communities in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, has been among the nation's fastest-growing community banking companies. Primarily through acquisitions, it more than doubled its assets, from $550 million in the first quarter of 1998 to $1.2 billion today.

But its stock price has fallen nearly 40% in the last year amid concern about the company's ability to generate growth internally, especially in its smaller markets. The shares were trading at $11.50 Tuesday afternoon, unchanged from Monday's closing price.

The Union deal is a slight departure from Gold's past strategy of acquiring smaller banks in rural areas. The company has been attracted mainly to the deposits in those markets to fuel loan growth in booming suburbs, such as Gold's home base near Kansas City.

I'm happy to see that they're moving into other areas where they can get some better growth, said Daniel Cardenas, an analyst at Howe Barnes Inc. in Chicago.

Union's stock price was up $4.38 a share, to $16.88 at midday Tuesday. The deal, announced late Monday, is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Mr. Cardenas did not rule out the possibility that Gold would pursue more deals in Greater Denver.

There's opportunity for them to grow in that marketplace, he said. When you look at how Denver's market share is broken down, there's a lot of large, out-of-state banks with a sizable presence. There's definitely room for them to target customers that are looking for high levels of service.

Union, the parent of Union Bank and Trust, operates seven offices in the Denver area. Union Bank chairman and CEO Herman J. Zueck, who will remain chairman after the deal closes, said the companies are ideal strategic partners.

We have similar cultures focused on providing personalized service, which is key to attracting and retaining individual and small-business customers in a highly competitive marketplace, he said.

Observers said it is unlikely that Gold would close any Union branches, though they expected typical back-office consolidation. Gold is also expected to retain Union's name and its employees that have customer contact in their positions.

Entering a new market, they can probably get better results if they don't change the name right away and create a new identity, said Chris Bamman, an analyst at Advest Group in New York. They don't want to cause too much disruption.

Advest continued to rate Gold a strong buy.

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