Members of the New Jersey Bankers Association have signed off on the trade group's agreement to merge with the New Jersey League of Community Bankers, paving the way for the deal to close by Jan. 1.

After years of on-again, off-again negotiations, the trade groups announced in September that their respective boards had agreed to combine the organizations under the New Jersey Bankers Association banner. Members of the New Jersey League, which primarily represents thrifts, approved the deal last month.

James Meredith, an executive vice president at the New Jersey League, said the two organizations have worked together on legislative matters for years and decided to team up now because their interests have become more closely aligned.

"There was a feeling that there was very little difference" between commercial banks and savings banks, he said. "We just felt that this was the right time."

Mr. Meredith said that, despite current economic conditions, both organizations are financially healthy enough to operate independently. Nevertheless, he said, staying independent could become more of a challenge as the industry continues to consolidate.

A number of state bank and thrift trade groups have merged in recent years, citing industry consolidation and the blurring of distinctions between banks and thrifts.

At the national level, the American Bankers Association and America's Community Bankers, which largely represented savings banks, merged last year.

Talks between the New Jersey groups had broken down in the past — most recently in early 2006 — primarily over which group's top executive would run the merged organizations.

Mr. Meredith said the merger agreement makes New Jersey Bankers president and chief executive John E. McWeeney Jr. and New Jersey League president James R. Silkensen co-presidents and -CEOs for two years; Mr. McWeeney is to take the sole helm in 2011.

The groups will combine their boards for now but whittle the membership to 23 by 2011.

The bankers association is based in Princeton but is to relocate to the league's office in Cranford once the merger closes.

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