A North Carolina bank plans to use a federal loophole pioneered by BankAmerica Corp. to apply for a de novo thrift charter in Georgia.

First Citizens Bancshares, Raleigh, said last week that it would apply to the Office of Thrift Supervision to establish a federal savings bank in Norcross, Ga., a prosperous suburb of Atlanta.

The bank said it expects to open First Citizens Bank of Georgia late this year after receiving approval from the OTS and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The move would be the first foray into Georgia by First Citizens, which has $7.4 billion of assets and operates 306 branches in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia under three bank charters.

Late last year, First Citizens' name surfaced in the Atlanta press as a rumored buyer for Eagle Bancshares, an Atlanta-area thrift with $558 million of assets. But no deal ever materialized, and a First Citizens spokesman declined to discuss the Eagle situation last week.

The spokesman, Christopher Bubin, did say that First Citizens, which doesn't now have a thrift subsidiary, had opted to open a de novo thrift near Atlanta instead of buying an existing franchise.

"We decided that was a simpler route to go to get what we needed, which was a banking presence in that market. We just think that's a really high potential market," Mr. Bubin said.

First Citizens' method of getting into Georgia is unorthodox in that it would let the North Carolina bank gain a presence in the Peach State without having to buy an existing bank, as would be required under current banking law.

But the concept of expanding interstate via de novo thrift charters was pioneered by San Francisco-based BankAmerica, which received OTS approval late last year to open savings and loan branches in all 50 states.

A BankAmerica spokesman said three thrift branches have been opened in the Chicago area, where BankAmerica owns the former Continental Bank Corp. BankAmerica has not yet opened such branches in other states, he added.

The question of whether federally chartered thrifts are subject to regulation by state banking authorities has long been contentious in Georgia and nationwide.

But Georgia Banking Commissioner E.D. "Jack" Dunn said he believes the OTS' ruling for BankAmerica negates the authority of the individual states.

"It's a loophole in the law, there's no question about it," Mr. Dunn said. "We will have no authority over First Citizens if they own a thrift."

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