Southern National Corp. said it wants to buy an investment bank.

Officials at the Winston-Salem, N.C., bank holding company said they are scouting out southeastern investment banking firms.

Analysts said Scott & Stringfellow Inc. and Davenport & Co., both based in Richmond, Va., were possible targets.

"A number of our major competitors have gone into the investment banking business and are trying to take away some of our middle-market customer relationships," John A. Allison, chairman and chief executive officer, said at the company's annual meeting this week. "We're trying to take a defensive posture to ensure we don't lose those customers."

Southern National's North Carolina-based rivals, NationsBank Corp., First Union Corp., and Wachovia Corp., are actively building their own investment banking businesses. Competitive pressures were ratcheted even higher when Bankers Trust New York Corp. said April 6 that it would buy Baltimore-based Alex. Brown & Sons Inc.

"The broader context of middle-market commercial lending mandates that they have bigger capabilities in some of the corporate finance areas, such as high-yield, foreign exchange, and securitization," said Anthony R. Davis, an analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds Discover. "For a commercial bank not to have those capabilities is clearly a disadvantage."

Meanwhile, shareholders of the $22 billion-asset company agreed to change its name to BB&T on May 16.

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