A newly chartered North Carolina bank plans to position itself as a high-touch, high-tech lender for small businesses.

First Carolina Bank, Charlotte, will open for business in July with on- line banking services and loan officers armed with laptops, said president Wesley W. Sturges.

The bank hopes to replace several niche lenders that have been acquired by bigger holding companies in the past two years.

"Companies with borrowing needs of less than $1 million are our target market here," Mr. Sturges said. "We have found that the larger banks have become more focused on their out-of-state activities."

First Carolina is one of several new banks chartered nationwide in the wake of rampant bank consolidation, which they contend has left small businesses in the cold. Foothills Bank opened last month in Wheat Ridge, Colo., with a similar offering of on-line services.

Mr. Sturges has been organizing the new bank since 1994, when ended a 15-year career at United Carolina Bank after a company reorganization. As a city executive, he oversaw 21 branches and spent the bulk of his time on business development.

First Carolina will open with $8 million in capital, which was raised through a private placement, and Mr. Sturges hopes to rake in $80 million of deposits by 2000.

The bank's strategy calls for offering the high-tech products of a big bank with the personal service of a community bank, Mr. Sturges said, explaining that businesses often want both from their banks.

"Most business owners are tied into their PCs to do their accounting, so it makes sense for them to use a PC to draw on their lines of credit," he said. "They're more likely to plug into on-line services than consumers."

Mr. Sturges and two yet-to-be-hired commercial lenders will provide the bank's human face to its customers. Lenders in the field will carry laptops so they can open accounts, approve loans, and access bank information from the offices of customers and prospects, Mr. Sturges said.

Mr. Sturges said big banks are too impersonal, despite their declarations of interest in small-business lending.

By hiring experienced, committed lenders, Mr. Sturges said his bank can get an edge on larger competitors that regularly reshuffle their small- business lending force.

"They try to, but I think, as their needs dictate, they move people overseeing the small-business piece to other parts of the bank," he said.

"The businesses I've talked to are tired of training loan officers. They want their banker to know their history, where they're coming from, where they are, and where they're going."

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