The Maryland Bankers Association and its long-time legislative rival, the Maryland League of Financial Institutions, are planning to merge.

As both industries shrink, trade groups, especially those representing thrifts, are finding it difficult to justify separate associations. Trade groups in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Tennessee have merged, and have found that they can put aside their differences and lobby for positions that benefit both members.

"All financial institutions are looking pretty much the same today," said Charles H. Kresslein Jr., president of the league.

Both boards have already approved the merger and will recommend it to their membership. Members of the league will vote on the proposal this week at their annual meeting, and bankers will vote at their annual meeting, which begins June 1. The merger, if approved, is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Mr. Kresslein said.

"I think it's a win-win," said John B. Bowers Jr., executive vice president of Maryland Bankers. "I think there is some real opportunity to sit down and hammer out some common positions instead of them being on one side."

Mr. Bowers would occupy the top slot in a merger, while Mr. Kresslein, who is 63, would consult the group for two years and retire.

The merger would also add 68 thrifts with $16 billion of assets to Maryland Bankers, which has 90 members with $50 billion of assets.

Both groups have lost members because of consolidation, but the league has been hit harder, with failures and acquisitions. The league could post a deficit for its fiscal year ending June 30, Mr. Kresslein said.

"I don't know how this year is going to come out. We may have a small deficit, but nothing significant," he said.

The executives acknowledge there will be hurdles to leap even after the deal is completed. One sore point is whether banks should help pay the interest on bonds that were issued to clean up the failed Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., which insured thrifts. Thrifts pay about $780 million a year in premiums to their insurance fund that is used to pay down the bonds.

Thrift groups say banks should share the cost, while bankers argue they shouldn't be held accountable for the other industry's problems.

"It's a sticky issue," Mr. Kresslein said. "We don't want to let that one issue be the ultimate factor that destroys this merger."

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