With their differences fading fast, New Jersey's banks and thrifts are considering joining forces.

The New Jersey Bankers Association and New Jersey's League of Community and Savings Bankers are in preliminary discussions to merge. Such a deal would leave the state, which until last year had three bank and thrift trade groups, with only one.

"There may be a time in the near future when it may be economically wise and probably politically wise for the two organizations to merge," said Alfred H. Griffith, president of the bankers association, which has 76 members.

Mr. Griffith said he plans to go to Bermuda this week, where he'll try to get to know the thrift group's members better at their annual meeting. Thrift officials joined the bankers group's convention last month-also in Bermuda.

Samuel J. Damiano, president of the 82-member New Jersey League of Community and Savings Bankers, said past rivalry is gone. The thrift trade group itself is a product of the merger of the New Jersey Savings Bankers and New Jersey Savings League.

"Clearly, the lines have blurred," Mr. Damiano said. "I think if there were any strong feelings, they pretty much disappeared."

Mr. Griffith said the future of the federal thrift charter-still in doubt before Congress-is something that the two groups see as a potential sticking point.

"Both organizations want to keep their options open," he said.

Mergers between state thrift and bank trade groups have been going on for the past 10 years as consolidation in their industries leaves fewer dues-paying members. Bank and thrift trade groups have merged in nine states, including New Hampshire, Florida, Tennessee, and Connecticut, according to the American Banker Association.

"I would think you're going to see discussions continue ... at the state and national level," said Gary Fields, director of the ABA's state association division. "To what degree that results in actual combining, that's hard to say."

Mr. Fields said mergers have been and would continue to be driven by the memberships, not trade association officials.

In New Jersey, Mr. Griffith and Mr. Damiano said both their groups are in good shape financially. However, the merger last year of the Maryland bank and thrift groups was caused by the thrift group's running out of money.

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