WASHINGTON - The nation's biggest thrift trade group has changed its name to America's Community Bankers, effective immediately.

"The real desire was to have a much more accessible, user-friendly name," said Paul A. Schosberg, president of the renamed trade group. The trade group's board voted unanimously Sunday to drop its old name, the Savings and Community Bankers of America.

However, many observers believe the trade group opted for the name change because it had given up fighting the way people pronounced the acronyn SCBA. It was most often rendered as "scuba," which the trade group's leaders feared would resurrect the image of an underwater industry.

But the trade group's chairman said the new name was picked for other reasons.

"We believe the new name is an excellent identifier for our members because it reflects the direction of our business and the manner in which it is serving people, communities, and their financial needs," said ACB chairman David E.A. Carson.

The Savings and Community Bankers name was chosen after the trade group was formed through the merger of the old U.S. League of Savings Institutions and the National Council of Community Bankers to form SCBA. The two groups joined forces after the savings and loan crisis wiped out nearly half of their members.

Indeed, the name Savings and Community Bankers represented an attempt to shift the group's image away from S&Ls after the thrift debacle gave the industry a black eye. Many thrifts have also changed their names to resemble those of commercial banks, mostly by dropping the word "savings."

The trade group's new name further attempts to push its identity toward that of commercial banks. In a press release, ACB called itself, "the national trade group for community banks."

The new name drew renewed fire from the Independent Bankers Association of America, the trade group for smaller commercial banks.

"SCBA does not represent the nation's community commercial banks," said Kenneth Guenther, IBAA's executive vice president.

"They have crafted a name that creates the image that they are more than they are," Mr. Guenther said.

Washington observers have suggested that SCBA is likely to merge with IBAA someday. Mr. Guenther said no such discussions were under way, but he predicted the thrift trade group would not be around "in the year 2000."

ACB's Mr. Carson said in an October interview that he would not oppose merging with a banking trade group, and that doing so would help both achieve economies of scale and broader lobbying clout.

Mr. Schosberg said ACB, like SCBA, would accept commercial bank members. But he said the group had no plans to merge with IBAA or any other banking trade association.

A handful of state thrift trade groups have merged with state commercial bank trade groups in the past year.

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