Nearly a quarter of North Carolina's state-chartered thrifts are pondering conversions to state bank charters.
The state's banking regulators have received inquiries this month from 10 savings banks that are considering the move.
"We feel with the recent legislative changes from Washington, some of the last barriers for changing have been removed," said Otis Meacham, deputy commissioner of banks in North Carolina. "There's very little reason why they would not go ahead and pursue those changes."
Home Savings Bank, a mutual thrift based in Washington, N.C., is leading what is expected to be a pack of conversions. The $184 million-asset thrift has just begun the process of becoming a stock-based institution and then a state-chartered commercial bank.
"We want to be one of the front-runners," said William L. Wall, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Home Savings Bank. "When we look at the competition now, a vast majority of the competition is commercial banking."
Mr. Wall said the thrift won't able to keep up with large regional competitors such as NationsBank Corp. or Wachovia Corp. unless it changes its focus to commercial and construction loans rather than mortgage loans - the mainstay of the traditional thrift.
Previously, the primary obstacle for a thrift trying to become a commercial bank was the tax that would be assessed on their reserves for bad debt, said Paul H. Stock, executive vice president of the Community Bankers Association of North Carolina.
But Congress did away with most of the penalty this year, so thrifts won't have to pay millions of dollars in taxes if they want a commercial bank charter.
Whether a nationwide surge of conversions is coming isn't clear yet.
"I haven't seen any visible evidence of a tidal wave," said Paul Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers. "But in all candor, I don't think any of us have been running state checks."
However, R. Lee Burrows Jr., managing director of Trident Financial Corp. of Raleigh, N.C., said the rush is on.
His investment banking firm, which has handled the conversions of 440 thrifts nationally since 1975, has completed 20 deals this year and has 10 more pending.
Mr. Meacham said he expects Home Savings Bank to be the first of many in his state to convert. North Carolina is home to 62 thrifts, including 40 state-chartered savings banks, six federally chartered savings banks, and 16 savings and loans.
Mr. Meacham said the telephone calls to his office began after after a Raleigh, N.C., law firm, Moore & Van Allen, sponsored a seminar last month about thrift conversions. The deputy banking commissioner told the group how the conversion process works.
Since then, some thrift officials who didn't attend the seminar have contacted him to find out more about the state bank charter.