Prime Bancorp is considering converting its thrift to a commercial bank after buying First Sterling Bancorp.

Philadelphia-based Prime is acquiring a bank holding company, First Sterling of Devon, Pa., in an approximately $29 million stock transaction. The deal is expected to close Dec. 31.

James J. Lynch, Prime's president and chief executive, said it will operate Prime Bank and First Sterling Bank separately until deciding whether to convert Prime Bank to a commercial bank.

Prime Bank, which has about $625 million in assets, operates 18 branches in Philadelphia, Bucks, and Montgomery counties.

Sterling Bank is a state-chartered commercial bank with $229 million in assets and four branches in Montgomery and Chester counties. The bank is opening a fifth branch, in Delaware County.

The conversion of Prime depends on what form the merger of the federal bank and thrift charters takes. Mr. Lynch said he'll await the Treasury Department's recommendations on the subject - expected before the end of the year - before making a move.

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