WSFS Financial Corp., the second-biggest financial institution based in Delaware, may be putting itself on the block.

WSFS, the $1.3 billion-asset parent of Wilmington Savings Fund Society, said this week that it had begun looking into strategic alternatives, "including a possible sale of the company."

The thrift company said its board of directors had formed a committee to select a financial adviser.

"This was no surprise at all," said Arnold Danielson, president of Danielson Associates Inc. of Rockville, Md. "I'm expecting virtually every stock thrift to make that decision, particularly the ones in urban areas. This is the time to go."

The recently announced First Union Corp.-First Fidelity Bancorp. megadeal has put a higher premium on all the area's financial institutions, Mr. Danielson said. First Union's track record of buying a big one and then quickly gobbling up the smaller surrounding banks will force competitors to move fast to keep that from happening in this market, he said.

The result: Institutions like WSFS Financial become more valuable than ever.

WSFS president Marvin N. Schoenhals confirmed this view, in a statement saying the company was taking this step in view of the current market for financial institutions. The company also acknowledged that its recent financial performance made it the right time to consider a sale.

Earnings jumped 98% last quarter, and 117% in the six-month period, the company reported.

Analysts said those that may be interested in acquiring the Wilmington- based company include CoreStates Financial Corp., PNC Bank Corp., Mellon Bank Corp., and First Union. The only other Delaware financial institution with some bulk that would attract acquirers interested in moving into the market is Wilmington Trust Corp., with $5 billion of assets.

It has been a busy period for WSFS Financial. Last Monday it said it was buying American Finance and Investment Inc., a national mortgage broker. Then last Friday WSFS completed the sale of four Philadelphia branches with $195 million of deposits.

"Their management is unusually imaginative and opportunistic," said John A. Bailey, vice president at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co., Arlington, Va. "Most thrifts are operating an endgame strategy, treading water until they meet their fate."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.