Hugh McColl and Edward Crutchfield aren't the only hungry bankers in North Carolina.

In the seven years Michael S. Patterson has run Triangle Bancorp, Raleigh, N.C., it has acquired nine banks.

'We realize we must be very active in the merger and acquisition strategy if we're going to provide the value for our shareholders," said Mr. Patterson, chairman, president, and CEO. "You can't stand still."

But at the same time that Mr. Patterson is trying to extend Triangle's reach, he is also trying to keep it small. When it comes to customer service, he sees Triangle, which has 61 branches, remaining like the traditional one-branch community bank.

For example, Triangle refuses to adopt credit scoring for small business loans. It promises commercial customers a live banker, not a faceless application.

The 51-year-old banker said Triangle's overhead is low enough that the old-fashioned way of small-business banking is profitable.

"What they've done is carve out a great niche," said Chip Wittmann, bank analyst at Wheat First Butcher Singer in Richmond, Va. "If you want a community bank-based relationship, they're really the only game in town."

Mr. Wittman praises Mr. Patterson for being able to sustain solid returns despite rapid growth.

The $1.5 billion-asset company boasts a 14.56% return on equity and a 1.22% return on assets.

And now the company will likely attract even more analysts. Triangle is scheduled to debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Jan. 2.

Mr. Wittmann said Triangle's challenge was to maintain that close customer contact as it continues to grow.

-Joanna Sullivan

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