Still months from opening for business, South Shore Community Bank and Trust is going public.

To meet Massachusetts' steep $8 million start-up threshold, the Braintree bank is taking the unusual step of selling stock before taking in its first deposit. Though the bank, headed by former top executives at Bank of Braintree, has already raised $7 million in a private offering, South Shore has hired the New York investment banker Josepthal & Co. to help raise an additional $2 million to $5 million.

"We can get to the $8 million by ourselves, but to get to $12 million we need a little help," said Donald C. Olson, the bank's chairman and chief executive officer. Mr. Olson resigned from Bank of Braintree after it was sold to Boston's UST Corp. in 1996.

Investors can begin buying shares in the start-up Monday. The extra capital, Mr. Olson said, would give the bank added flexibility and the chance to become profitable more quickly.

Shortage of capital has twice delayed the bank's opening, said Bernard J. Doherty, senior vice president in Josepthal's Boston office. Though Mr. Doherty applauded Mr. Olson's team for raising $7 million on its own, he said that given the start-up requirements in Massachusetts, he is not surprised fund-raising efforts have stalled.

Bankers "are not used to going around asking for money, they're used to giving it," Mr. Doherty said. "They just needed a fresh group of people to finish the job."

Massachusetts' start-up threshold is among the highest in the nation. In Florida, for example, a bank can be up and running with as little as $2 million. Connecticut recently reduced its capital requirement for state- chartered banks from $5 million to $3 million.

The $8 million threshold prevented Middlesex Bank and Trust Co. of Newton, Mass., from getting off the ground last year. Affiliated Bancorp. in Waltham wound up buying the charter.

To capitalize South Shore Community Bank, Josepthal plans to issue 200,000 to 500,000 shares at $10 each. The issue is scheduled to be completed March 1, regardless of how many shares are sold, Mr. Doherty said.

"Shares are like a fish on a shelf," he said. "The longer it stays on the shelf, the more it starts to stink."

South Shore Community Bank, now expected to open this spring, is aiming to "fill a void" created by the wave of bank consolidation that has swept southeastern Massachusetts in recent years, Mr. Olson said. The larger banks are more interested in serving larger corporations than the 13,000 or so small businesses operating on the South Shore, he said.

"There's a real need down here. These people need to have a bank where they can do business," said Mr. Olson, who was with Bank of Braintree for 27 years.

Robert Powers, principal with Compass Consulting Group in Providence, R.I., said it is unusual for a bank to go public before opening.

Nevertheless, Mr. Powers is betting that investors will buy shares in South Shore Community Bank and that the bank will ultimately prosper.

"Investing in any start-up is an act of faith," he said. "But this bank has a better-than-average chance of succeeding, because these guys know banking and know their community."

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