A rift is growing among Oklahoma's state-chartered banks between the expansion-minded and those that fear ruinous competition.

On one side are institutions that support the right of banks to move their headquarters to new markets and then branch back to their former hometowns. Opposing them are institutions whose leaders say such expansion will glut their markets.

The Oklahoma State Banking Board, a quasi-regulatory body of five bankers and one attorney, has called attention to the rift by rejecting two relocation requests in the last three months. The board had approved similar moves in the past.

Many observers - including one of the banking board members - said the decisions could cause some banks to defect to national charters, which have more liberal branching guidelines.

This prospect becomes more likely as banks try to position themselves for the imminent invasion of NationsBank Corp., which is set to enter Oklahoma through its acquisition of Boatmen's Bancshares.

"One of my concerns is that, in the end result, we will have banks convert from state charters to federal charters to have that ability to branch," said Gary Huckabay, president of Oklahoma City-based All America Bank. Mr. Huckabay is a member of the State Banking Board.

Already, the chief executive of one of the spurned banks said he is contemplating a charter conversion.

"We can't stay the status quo and survive," said Duwayne Briley, chief executive of $155 million Bank of Vian. The bank was seeking to move its headquarters 12 miles east, to Sallisaw, where it already has $7.5 million in deposits. The request was denied Oct. 16.

Under Oklahoma banking laws, to enter the market Bank of Vian would have to buy a bank in Sallisaw, the seat of affluent Sequoyah County, or obtain a new charter.

The board also rejected a request from First State Bank, Gould. Its application for relocation to Altus was denied Aug. 20.

Oklahoma, a unit banking state until the early 1980s, has relatively restrictive branching rules. For instance, if a bank wants to branch into markets already served by other banks, it must buy one of the institutions already there.

Seeking a way around this, a few institutions recently have cited a state statute that leaves the door open for banks to move headquarters within 25 miles of the original location and then branch back.

In the two most recent instances, only one board member, Mr. Huckabay, voted in favor of the bank requests.

Mr. Huckabay probably could empathize with the banks. Last November he applied to the board and received approval to relocate his bank's headquarters from Mustang. He recused himself from that vote.

Besides Mr. Huckabay, only two other board members were present for the votes on the Vian bank: Jarret K. Parker, president of Cleo State Bank, and Tom Parrish, president of Southwestern Bank and Trust Co.

Mr. Parker said Vian failed to show why Sallisaw needed another financial institution. Mr. Parrish would not comment on why he voted against the relocation.

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