WASHINGTON - Community banks expect to be active dealmakers under interstate branching, according to a study.

About 37% of all community banks believe they will need to acquire at least one other bank in order to stay competitive when full interstate branching takes effect in July 1997, according to a survey conducted by Grant Thornton LLP, an accounting and management consulting firm.

Another 37% said they would establish in-state branches, while 7% said they would open out-of-state branches.

"Community banks recognize that they cannot rely just on traditional strategies any longer," said Diane M. Casey, director of regulatory issues for Grant Thornton. "If they are going to survive and prosper in an interstate environment, they must also consider growth opportunities."

Only 7% of the banks surveyed in the study expect to be acquired under interstate banking, making the market for sellers "extremely attractive," Casey said.

Credit unions remained at the top of community bankers competition list, with 66% saying they were the greatest competitive concern in their market.

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