A North Carolina community advocate wants to open a bank targeting the state's Hispanic population, which he says other banks in the area do not serve.

Mike Leary, publisher of a Raleigh-based Hispanic newspaper, says he has received commitments for about half of the $3 million minimum capital to receive a state banking charter.

"Our phone has been ringing off the hook," he said. "We are getting calls from investors who are interested in knowing what we want to do."

The need for this bank is real, Mr. Leary said-for example, to serve people without Social Security numbers. Resident aliens, even legal ones, cannot obtain them, and new citizens often go through years of paperwork to do so, Mr. Leary said.

His bank would legally provide no-interest checking accounts to people without Social Security numbers, he said.

Mr. Leary hopes to open a branch in each of North Carolina's three largest markets-Charlotte, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem.

More than 700 businesses in the state target or are owned by Hispanics, he said. "If half of them invest money or open an account, we will be in good shape."

But the bank has a long way to go before it solicits accounts. Hal Lingerfelt, North Carolina's bank commissioner, estimated that only one in 20 groups that come to his office interested in forming a bank ends up with a charter.

Mr. Lingerfelt emphasized that the $3 million capital requirement is only a minimum. In fact, the state has not chartered a bank with less than $4 million in recent history, he said. And one recent de novo in the Raleigh area had to raise $15 million of capital to earn state approval.

And there is no guarantee that vocal support right now will translate to investment dollars when needed.

The organizers of Caribbean First Bank in Hartford, Conn., learned that lesson the hard way. Last month they gave back their temporary charter after seven years of trying to open a bank for Connecticut's Hispanic community.

"Everyone in the world told us how wonderful our plans were," said Sydney Schulman, a Hartford-based lawyer who was to be a director of Caribbean First. "But no one wanted to be the first to give us money."

It is "certainly a possibility" that the same thing could happen in North Carolina, said Mr. Leary. But he said he is determined.

"We are going to take this as far as we can," he said. "Our goal is to get this bank open. But even if we don't, at least we have gotten people talking."

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