Royal Bank of Canada, which over the past year has acquired a loose array of niche businesses in the United States, on Friday announced the deal that it hopes will let it stitch those financial services operations together.

The Toronto bank said it had agreed to buy Centura Banks Inc. of Rocky Mount, N.C., for $2.3 billion. Executives from Canada’s largest banking company said that Centura, with $11 billion of assets and 240 branches in Virginia and the Carolinas, fits well into their strategy of expanding Royal Bank’s customer base and cross-selling an array of financial products.

Royal Bank has been active in the United States in an expansion that has accelerated since the company’s foiled attempt to merge with Bank of Montreal in 1998.

In December, Royal Bank purchased the brokerage Dain Rauscher Corp. in Minneapolis. It bought the mortgage company Prism Financial Corp. of Chicago last March, then acquired Liberty Life Insurance Co. and Liberty Insurance Services Corp. in Greenville, S.C.

Royal Bank also entered Internet services, purchasing online brokerage Bull & Bear in 1999 and the online Security First Network Bank in 1998.

The Centura deal would be an opportunity to execute Royal Bank’s retail banking model in a growing market, enabling it to have a 10% to 15% increase in earnings per share by 2002, said Royal Bank chief executive officer John Cleghorn.

“The acquisition provides a strong foothold in the Southeast U.S. market,” Mr. Cleghorn said. “We want to build on their approach.”

Indeed, Royal Bank scouted Centura in an attempt to boost revenue growth in faster-growing segments of North America, said James Rager, vice chairman of Royal Bank. “Centura’s positioning as a full-line retailer of financial service provides the opportunity to create a strong retail banking platform in the U.S. with considerable growth potential,” he said.

Centura has 650,000 customers and $7.7 billion of deposits. It would boost the percentage of wealthy households in Royal Bank’s customer base and help it gain build an urban presence, Mr. Cleghorn said. Centura is also the third-largest insurance agency in North Carolina.

The combined entity would have the right products in place to take advantage of cross-selling, said Charles Ernst, an analyst at Putnam Lovell Securities. The product set “is a big positive,” he said.

During a press conference on Friday, James Rager, vice chairman of Royal Bank, said the bank plans to consolidate administrative functions in the treasury, risk management, and marketing and sales units. It anticipates cost savings of $70 million in three years, he said.

Royal Bank plans to integrate operations at Security First Network and Prism Financial once the transaction closes. Prism Financial is a mortgage originator and broker with 159 branches that originated $8 billion in loans in 1999.

That Centura was moved on came as less of a surprise than which company struck the deal, analysts said. Most observers had expected the midsize institution to become the prey of a fellow North Carolina bank, like Wachovia Corp. or BB&T Corp. Some even hypothesized that Atlanta’s SunTrust Banks Inc. could find a nice fit in Centura.

But the structure of the combined company may have appealed to Centura’s management. Under terms of the deal, Royal Bank agreed to exchange 1.68 of its shares for each share of Centura. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter, after which time Centura would adopt the name RBC Centura Banks Inc.

Cecil W. Sewell, chief executive officer at Centura, will become chairman of RBC Centura after the deal is completed. H. Kel Landis, president of Centura, will be CEO of the new company.

The changes will be minimal for Centura, Mr. Sewell said.

“Royal Bank has a stellar reputation and corporate culture very similar to our own,” he said. “They offer us the best opportunity to preserve and strengthen this culture while realizing our full potential.”

“I think in the end this was probably as good a deal as Centura could have gotten,” said Robert S. Patten, an analyst at UBS Warburg. “They are going to let Centura do what they were doing.”

The proposed merger did not prevent Moody’s Investors Service from keeping its negative rating outlook on Royal Bank of Canada. Moody’s placed Centura and its subsidiaries on review for a possible upgrade.

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