Hovde Financial Inc. has hired two executives for its expansion into the specialty finance and leasing sectors.

The Washington-based investment banking firm said last week that Martin Shames and James R. Billings have joined it as vice presidents.

The two ran Kropschot Financial Inc., which has provided merger advisory work to specialty finance and leasing firms. The firm, which has now been dissolved, had offices in Baltimore and Hollywood, Fla. It helped complete 11 deals for finance companies in 1998, ranking second in the sector.

Hovde, which focuses on small banks and thrifts, said it expects to see more mergers between specialty finance companies and smaller regional banks.

"Banks that acquire finance or leasing companies gain a proven franchise that provides consumer or commercial credit beyond the traditional local banking market," said Eric D. Hovde, president and chief executive officer.

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