The spigot for new bank charters will be turned on slowly during the latter half of this decade, predicts the chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

When — and if — de novo activity will resume has been a hot topic of discussion in banking circles lately. Many industry players believe it is a lost cause; the cost of entry is too high and the chances of building a high-performing bank are too low. Others, however, assert that groups of entrepreneurial bankers will see voids to fill and activity will resume eventually.

Camden Fine, who has led the ICBA for the past decade and naturally has a vested interest in rallying against a smaller industry, said in an interview Friday that he believes new activity will begin in earnest in 2017 or so.

"It may not be as robust as the late '90s, when we had 150 to 200 [new banks] a year, but maybe 50 or 60 a year, particularly by 2020," Fine said. "First in, say 2017, it will be 10 to 15."

The new activity will sprout once the industry players feel the operating environment has leveled off, he said. "The money will come back once we digest [new regulation] and the turmoil gets in the rear view," Fine said, adding that startup capital "will maybe go where there is no local bank."

Fine's comments on de novos were part of a discussion concerning the number of banks in the industry over the next five years or so.

"We have 6,300 community banks as of right now," Fine said. "My personal prediction is that… we will be at 4,800 to 5,300 banks" by the end of 2019.

Based on his projections, Fine isn't expecting M&A activity to ramp up too much.

If the current pace of activity continues, there could be roughly 280 acquisitions announced this year, based on 186 deals announced so far this year. There were 229 last year and 221 in 2012, according to data from Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Fine and the ICBA have been vocal about their opposition to consolidation. Fine, reiterating past comments on the subject, said the investment banking community is playing off a wary and weary industry.

"Investment bankers have a vested interest to drive consolidation and they are taking advantage of an atmosphere that is oppressive," he said.

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