Something is happening in West Virginia that has occurred only once in the past 13 years there - a new bank is opening. And at least three more are on the way.
Temporarily housed in a trailer in the town of Beckley, Citizens Southern Bank opened its doors this week, making it the first of a building wave of start-up banks in the state.
"Many people had the idea to pursue a new bank, but no one had seen this in action or seen it succeed," said Robert L. Palmer, president and chief executive of Citizens Southern. "We were the test project and showed that it could be done."
At least three others are in the process of forming and hope to be in business within the next three to nine months. Though scattered throughout the mountainous state, most of the CEOs of these institutions had the common experience of working for banks that were bought out, often by out- of-staters.
This invasion by the regionals - mainly Columbus, Ohio's Huntington Bancshares and Banc One Corp. - has led to a highly consolidated, big-bank- dominated market, one that is therefore ripe for community bank start-ups, the organizers believe.
"All of the banks in my area have been purchased, and it's sort of left the door open for a smaller bank with local roots," said Thomas J. Hansberry, president and chief executive of Heritage Bank of Harrison County, which plans to open in Clarksburg in about six months.
Mr. Hansberry has heard of three other groups of investors forming banks, in addition to the four public ones, and believes the state will see more down the road.
This is occurring now in West Virginia because the state's economy has finally turned around, making an initial public offering more feasible, observers said. Also, the public has realized that their banks are no longer locally owned or controlled.
"It was partly because of the economy, and also we were a banked-up state in the early-1980s," said Sharon G. Bias, the state's commissioner of banking, explaining the lack of new banks for so long. "But that has changed."
From 235 banks in the state 10 years ago, the number has shrunk to 140 today, leaving most of the state's markets served by branches of larger banks rather than by institutions run by local boards of directors, the organizers said.
"We feel there is a lack of personal service offered by out-of-state management," said Carroll G. Casto, whose Rockbranch Community Bank in Nitro received its charter this week and plans to open in the first quarter of 1996.
The big banks responded that they can provide the same service as the small ones, with more product variety and more cheaply.
"We follow that same philosophy, that the closer you get to your market the better," said John A. Russell, chief communication officer of $87 billion-asset Banc One. "We have always said that there is a place for a well-run community bank, but the issue is that the industry is going through tremendous consolidation, and we haven't seen anything yet."
The other known start-up is the Capital State, which plans to open on the outskirts of Charleston in October. That effort intends to raise $12 million this summer, an unusually high amount that would allow the bank to grow to its target of up to $200 million of assets within five years, said the bank's president, Michael H. Hudnall.
The average capital-raising goal for the banks is around $6 million. Citizens Southern actually overcapitalized - by about $350,000 - and is refunding the money, as well as setting up an investor waiting list.