Sniffing out a demand for community bank services throughout North Carolina, a 79-year-old community bank there is expanding outside its home county for the first time.

FNB Financial Services Corp., parent of First National Bank of Reidsville, said it would open full-service branches in Greensboro and Wilmington this year.

"There's just so much opportunity now with a lot of the consolidations going on," said Ernest J. Sewell, First National's president and chief executive. "There are voids in the marketplace."

Mr. Sewell said the expansion already planned outside Rockingham County won't end the push.

In particular, Mr. Sewell said, the Greensboro market is brimming with promise because it's dominated by the state's three superregionals - Wachovia, NationsBank, and First Union. Competition among the big banks is heated, he said.

But he said that acquisitions of several Greensboro community banks in recent years, including $200 million-asset Triad Bank last year, mean the community banking market is "wide open."

Another newcomer, Carolina Savings Bank, a state-chartered institution, opened its doors in Greensboro last November.

"We feel like the future is extremely bright for a locally owned community bank," said Robert T. Braswell, president and chief executive of $11.7 million-asset Carolina Savings.

Others are feeling the same way about North Carolina, a state that has been hit particularly hard by merger and acquisition frenzy.

So far this year, the North Carolina bank commissioner has gotten five applications for state commercial bank charters. The proposed banks include Mid-Carolina in Burlington, Capital in Raleigh, and Mountain in Hendersonville.

In the past 17 months, 10 banks have opened in the state.

"We seemed to go through a lot of mergers, and a lot of the smaller banks disappeared," said Irene Smith, administrative assistant to the North Carolina bank commissioner. "Then the people evidently decided they liked the smaller banks, and we're seeing a resurgence of that."

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