J. Christopher Flowers, the founder of the private-equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co., may use the Missouri bank his firm has acquired as a platform to buy failed institutions, according to a source close to the investor.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said in a filing that it has approved Mr. Flowers' personal acquisition of the $14 million-asset First National Bank of Cainesville.
Private-equity investors have been pressing the Federal Reserve Board to loosen regulations on their ability to invest in and influence the management of banks and thrifts. The Fed revised its guidelines for minority investments Monday, and J.C. Flowers & Co. is one of the firms seeking controlling stakes to profit from the financial crisis.
"Their competitive advantage is to team up with experts in the industry and really make changes in the business," said Robert Kennedy, a partner with the law firm Jones Day in New York. "That's the piece of financial-institution investing that's been unavailable."
Buyout firms want to make controlling investments in the struggling banking industry, but they are wary of becoming a bank holding company. That status would trigger restrictions on nonbanking activities and the amount of debt they can take.
To avoid that classification, some individuals from private-equity firms have considered acquiring banks themselves. That was the case with Mr. Flowers' Missouri deal, which may be a template for other transactions.
First National Bank of Cainesville was the 17th-smallest bank in Missouri by deposits among the 397 listed on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s Web site as of June of last year.
"An individual cannot be a bank holding company," said Mark Tenhundfeld, director of regulatory policy at the American Bankers Association. "If the OCC approves a change in bank control proposal by an individual, then that person may avoid bank holding-company regulations."
In addition, an individual may be able to co-invest with private-equity funds and avoid the holding-company classification if the funds take a noncontrolling stake, according to Mr. Tenhundfeld.
The revised Fed guidelines raised the threshold for such stakes to 33%, from 25%.
According to the OCC's filing Aug. 27, Mr. Flowers may expand First National Bank of Cainesville "by means of internal growth or through the acquisition of troubled or failed depository institutions."
Edward Grebow, a spokesman for J.C. Flowers & Co., would not discuss the bank acquisition.